A Sneak Peek at the Set of A Discovery of Witches

When I attended Oxford University for a month-long publishing program, I didn’t expect to go to school with witches and vampires.

It was a chilly September day when my train arrived from London. The cobblestone streets and sea of spires didn’t look familiar, even though I had visited the city less than ten years ago. I’d always wanted to live in a castle—a desire stemming from my Harry Potter obsession that was finally being realized—but I also knew that come morning, my boyfriend would be off on a bus to Heathrow Airport while I’d be meeting 70 strangers who would, for better or worse, be my only company for the next month.

As the days passed and I settled into my new home at Exeter College, I savored the thrilling feeling of exclusivity as I strutted past hordes of weekend tourists to my always-too-cold dorm room (I was told by the porter that heating wouldn’t be provided until the fall term began). Every night when I sat in my room overlooking Broad Street and Trinity College, I felt as if I had been transported back in time to land squarely in a gothic romance.

That’s what Oxford does: it makes you feel special and not quite yourself.

When the end of my time at Oxford was looming near and I had been feeling particularly gloomy, an unusual email from my professor popped up in my inbox. “Filming in College,” it read. As it turns out, A Discovery of Witches was going to be filmed in the very college I was staying in. A thrill went through my spine—I bought the book just two months ago and had been dying to read it.

“This will not disrupt our schedule,” my professor insisted—only it did, in a minuscule, exciting way that only happened to bystanders who wished to take part in an important event. Daily journeys to the dining hall became riddled with thrills and suspense: ducking behind posts when the director yelled “action,” holding our breaths as the actors walked past, and dashing madly through the film set toward our coveted meal before filming started once more.

The film crew setting up in the Front Quad in front of the Dining Hall.

On the last day of filming—coincidentally my last day in Oxford—the weather was relaxing and sunny, a departure from its usual overcast gloominess. My friend Abby and I pressed our noses up to her window to watch the film crew below, who waved at us when they discovered our hiding spot.

Teresa Palmer, who plays the lead character Diana Bishop—a witch—stood by in a heavy black coat, while Matthew Goode, who portrays her vampire boyfriend Matthew Clairmont, walked past in a matching black jacket. When Abby and I ventured out for our shopping trip, we tried to be discreet and nonchalant, although I suspect we failed miserably at both.

When afternoon came and my class gathered in Fellows’ Garden for one last sherry hour, Teresa strolled past wearing a new athletic outfit and peeked at the crowd. “I want to be a part of their party,” I heard her say.

But who would believe I partied with a witch?

A Discovery of Witches premieres in the UK on Sky One on September 14 and in the US and Canada on Sundance Now and Shudder at a yet to be announced date.

 

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Read more and sample the audio.

 

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