THOUSANDS of Harry Potter fans will be heading for Wiltshire cinemas this week to catch up on the latest adventures of Harry, Hermione and friends at Hogwarts school of magic and wizardry.

Already tickets are selling fast for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and special Harry Potter merchandise is flying from the shelves in local toy shops.

Wiltshire has a special connection with the Harry Potter films since Lacock Abbey featured in the first episode, The Philosopher's Stone and the abbey is set to make another appearance in the new film too.

Graham Heard, properties manager for the National Trust at Lacock, said the village had an air of excitement as people discussed the forthcoming film.

"I am looking forward to seeing it," he said.

"I think people are not quite as excited as they were about seeing Lacock in the first film, but we shall all be looking very carefully to see if we can spot the abbey."

He said it is not easy picking out the abbey scenes as the film is sewn together so cleverly.

The role of Lacock in the next film is still unknown as yet, he said.

"Nobody knows about the next one yet," he said. "The locations have not been firmed up and it will have a new director who may have new ideas."

Hogwarts fanatics of all ages are now clamouring to see the film, though director Chris Columbus has described it as much darker and funnier than the first.

Author JK Rowling herself admitted at the premiere that she thought five or six year-olds might be too young to see it.

With a decidedly more sinister take on the ever-popular bespectacled wizard tales, the new Warner Bros film depicts Harry being forced to confront an evil force intent on terrorising the enchanted school.

Consequently, although The Philosopher's Stone was awarded a PG rating by the British Board of Film Classification, the Chamber of Secrets' PG status comes with an extra parental warning that reads: 'Contains mild language and horror, and fantasy spiders.'

But local cinema operators were confident the darker tone and the PG warning would not put off young cinema goers.

Paul Shearing, assistant manager at the Palace Cinema in Devizes, said he is expecting the film to be very popular and he does not anticipate anyone staying away because of the PG advice.

The film opens on December 13 in Devizes, and Mr Shearing said they were planning school visits to see the film during the mornings.

Brian Reid, of the UGC Cinema, at Shaw Ridge Leisure Park in Swindon, said tickets were selling well for the first shows, though none had sold out yet.

"Certain showings are very popular but there are still seats spare at the moment," he said.

"There are three big films coming out, with Harry Potter, the new James Bond and Lord of the Rings II.

"I can't see the darker tone will keep people away, and probably Harry Potter will be the biggest because it will appeal to children as well as adults."

Sarah Eastel, whose Bath-based location company organised the filming at Lacock for the National Trust, enjoyed a special preview of the film in Leicester Square on Saturday.

She said it is fantastic. "There are certainly Lacock bits in it, but we are not allowed to say where in the film the producers don't want it to be location-based," she said.

"But Lacock does look fabulous."

She is still waiting to find out if the abbey will have a role in the next film.

"I have enjoyed working on this and I am extremely proud to be associated with it again," she said.

"We try to minimise disruption for the village, and hope people did not notice the filming too much."

Harry Potter figurines, Lego kits and board games have been released to coincide with the launch of the new film. Robert Chivers, manager of Woolworths in Chippenham, said they were currently stacking the shelves with plenty of new Harry Potter goodies.

"We have a good range of new toys and we are expecting them to sell well," he said.

Julie Gray, of Duck's Toy Shop in Marlborough, said toys relating to the first film have continued to sell throughout the year, and now they have a new range for the second film.

"We have some new figures and new Harry Potter Lego," she said.

"They are really selling well. The Lego has been the most popular. We also have some games and even a Hornby model train of the Hogwarts Express."

Extra special view of film for youngsters

FIVE Lacock youngsters will be taking a special interest in the new film, as they were lucky enough to be picked out as extras in the Chamber of Secrets.

Warner Brothers asked children in year six at Lacock Primary School if they fancied the chance of rubbing shoulders with the stars.

Auditions were held and five children were selected to take part in filming at the abbey based mainly on whether they looked the right age.

"Children who lived in the village or attended the school were allowed to go along," said headteacher Sue Warringham.

"They had to be prepared to give up to a week for the filming, though in the end they spent three days at the abbey."

The youngsters had plenty of time on their hands, so the school sent a teacher along with them to make sure they kept up with their school work during the hours they were not needed on set.

"They spent long hours there, but they loved it," said Mrs Warringham. "They were told not to give away details about the filming and they were very discreet and didn't tell us much."

Some of the Lacock youngsters were filmed in the abbey scenes, but some were taken to London to be extras in the scenes featuring the Hogwarts Express.

Harry Potter fans will be turning out in force for a special Lacock premiere of the new film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Film producers Warner Brothers have allowed the Friends of Lacock Parish Church to organise the special preview performance since the village played a vital role in the filming.

Local people will be looking out for scenes set in Lacock Abbey, which features prominently in both films.

The Lacock preview performance will be held at Chippenham's Astoria cinema on Saturday with doors opening at 8.45am. The film will commence at 9.15am.

The cinema seats 198 people and Lacock villagers have first priority for seats, but Richard Searight, chairman of the Friends, said a few tickets might still be available for the general public.

The Friends are not charging for the tickets but the event was organised to raise funds for St Cyriac's Church, so a generous donation is expected from cinema goers.

"We are very grateful to the Astoria Cinema for laying this on for us free," said Mr Searight.

The film, which is two hours and 40 minutes long, will have an interval when the Friends will draw a special Harry Potter raffle, with Hogwarts-related prizes on offer.

Local schoolchildren who took part in the filming as extras will also be among the audience.

Visitors will also be able to visit the projection room at the special event.

"We're looking forward to it it looks very good," said Mr Searight.

Anyone wishing to take up any remaining tickets for the special showing should contact Jane Weaver on (01249) 730249.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets opened in London's Leicester Square on Sunday, with young stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in attendance.

Around 4,000 people gathered outside the cinema for the event.

The film goes in general release in Britain and the US on November 15, and filming for the third episode is due to start in early spring next year.

Mr Searight is anticipating that Lacock Abbey will be called upon again as a set for the third film, because it played an important part in the first two.