JAMES BOND GOES CZECH REPUBLIC
The series of movies about the gentleman with a license for murder in the name of Her Majesty has always electrified the imagination of the audience with the images of journeys around the world, being consequent to the literature original by Ian Flemming. Since 1962 the feeling of freedom and involvement in the deeds of the planetary scale have been cultivated by the scenes from different parts of the world. In the new millennium, the changing of the title actor brought no changes to a tradition. Hot Madagascar, the dangers of the jungles of Uganda, mannered cabinets of the British parliament, the charming Balkans in the mountain Montenegro, the palms in Miami in the United States. In actual fact and when it comes to cinematic realities, the greater proportion of the movie was filmed in the Czech Republic, Italy, and the Bahamas depicted as other locations. A relatively long period of principal filming between January 31 and June 21, 2006, allowed the crew to adapt to seasons and weather freely.
Italy dominated the final part of the Casino Royale, Bahamas played a role of a tropical paradise, while the better half of all scenes were staged in relatively accessible and moderate in expenses (at least in 2006) Czech Republic. Such geographical priority meant not only open-air shooting but the studio sets as well. By moving its production from the Pinewood studios in London, a home for 007 filmmaking since the 1960s, to the Barrandov Studios in the suburb of Prague, the creators decided to shift the whole process to continental Europe. The Barrandov studios with their ninety years of filming history are now regarded as ‘The Hollywood of the East’. For decades it was a home for primarily either Czech or European cinema until the 1970s witnessed a start of cooperation with the American studios. Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), Operation: Daybreak (1975), Das Boot (1983), Amadeus (1984), Kafka (1991), Stalingrad (1993), The adventures of young Indiana Jones TV series, Mission impossible (1996), Les Misérables (1998) were among the most recognized projects set here in the late XX century. The coming of the new millennium brought Barrandov to world recognition: ‘From hell (2001), A knight’s tale (2001), Blade II (2002), The Bourne Identity (2002), Hart’s war (2002), Shanghai Knights (2003), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Hellboy (2004), The Brothers Grimm (2005), The Chronicles of Narnia (2005), Oliver Twist (2005), Doom (2005) and it all only before the coming of the filming crew of Casino Royale in 2006.
It is interesting to note that the list of those movies filmed at Barrandov, may be found not only on IMDB or on the studio website but while visiting the facility every tourist has a chance to find not only banners but even some preserved props, including some from the days of Casino Royale. Casino Royale was primarily filmed in two large pavilions numbers 6 and 7, each 12 meters in height with an accessible area of 1200 m2. The Barrandov studios was not the only location in the Czech Republic apart from Prague itself, which appeared in the movie. The filming crew did not visit Montenegro and the casino sequences were staged in the picturesque Czech town Karlovy Vary, a well-famed spa destination. It was here as well where the scene of Vesper and James to the train station was filmed as well. It is even more peculiar to know the fact that Montenegro has a poor railway system. The local historical spa center provided its exterior to the Casino Royale and the nearby Grandhotel Pupp was chosen to depict ‘Hotel Splendide’ where James and Lynd stayed. A scene of the first meeting with Rene Mathis was also filmed in the Western Czech Republic, in the town of Loket not far from Karlovy Vary. Later on, some hospital scenes with Bond recovering from torture were as well filmed in the country, inside the semi-abandoned military hospital of the communist era in Plana town in Tachov District, close to a border with Germany.
When it comes to the shooting in Prague, the topography of filming was diverse yet restricted, while except for one opening scene, the city largely plays the role of other locations. The first location, which is worth mentioning even without Daniel Craig’s appearance, is closely connected to the character of M, depicted by the legendary Judi Dench. In the aftermath of the testosterone-like sequence in Madagascar, the movie takes us to London. The panoramic shot of the British Parliament makes space for M and her aide while they live in the spacious and mannerly furnitured hall named COMMITTEE ROOM 1. As a matter of fact, the scene was shot in Prague inside the Strahov Monastery library in the Eastern part of the city. The monastery traces its history back to the XII century and is regarded as one of the oldest active churches in the Czech Republic, with its library considered to be one of the oldest and fanciest in Europe. The main arch-like hall known as ‘Philosophical’, where the scene was staged, had been created back in the XVIII century and is ten meters in height and thirty-two in length.
In the first half of the movie Bond traces a potential terrorist in the airport in Miami. The attentive audience could not only identify the Prague international airport Mezinárodní letiště Václava Havla-Praha (named after the former president of the country) but to recognize Richard Branson in a short cameo. The flight gate to the city was opened as far back as 1937, survived WWII and two renovations (in the 1960s and in the 1990s), and gained its current naming as later as 2012. At the time of Casino Royale filming in Prague, it bore the name Praha-Ruzyně. It should be mentioned that the location granted the movie with only the panoramic shots inside the terminal and in front of the facade. The lasting entertaining sequence on the landing strip was filmed at Dunsfold Aerodrome, near Guildford in Surrey, United Kingdom.
THE OPENING BLACK-AND-WHITE SEQUENCE
While further down the story Prague would play the role of London, Miami, and Venice, it was the opening black-and-white scene that gave us a direct understanding of taking place in the capital of the Czech Republic. The middle-aged man leaves his car in front of a modern semi-futuristic building of stone, steel, and glass. The camera follows his way up to the office until he fuses with the building. The importance of the opening sequence could be fully appreciated only later retrospectively when it would be clear that the man was a former MI6 official, who had treason his country. The corrupt and traitorous former section chief Dryden was revealed to sell secret information and M (Judi Dench) sent James Bond to make the traitor silent forever. The scene is important not only from the scenario point of view in the terms of this particular Bond movie but in the context of the character’s becoming a legend. With this task, James earned his license for murder in the name of Her Majesty.
In regard to the building which dominated the opening black-and-white scene, at the moment of the shooting it had been finished less than three years. The DANUBE HOUSE building is located at Karolinska street 1 in the Prague district known as KARLIN near the Vltava river. I have already written about the neighborhood in my article devoted to Blade II filming locations in Prague. As a matter of fact, the opening sequence of Del Toro’s movie was filmed on Sokolovska street as much as 200 meters from the opening scene of Casino Royale. Just right behind the corner, another scene with vampires and a drug dealer was staged as well as a short sequence of the Mission impossible: Phantom protocol, where Ethan takes his place in the car at night time. The viaduct which is omnipresent in those three scenes and which the Danube House faces is the landmark of Prague known as ‘Negrelliho viadukt’ 1100 meters long. Built of sandstone and polished Czech granite, it had been the longest viaduct in Europe until 1910. It never appears in ‘Casino Royale’ but is located behind Dryden’s back while he is entering the Danube House.
When it comes to the building itself, the history of the Danube House originated in 1998 with the new strategic plan for the urban development of Prague, once created to be a road map until 2006. One of the key clauses established the necessity to create several new centers of business activity beyond the city center. The KARLIN district was chosen as such a hub and the business campus RIVER CITY PRAGUE made of a few giant buildings and space between was the most intriguing project for the area. The building and construction activity was put into practice as early as 2000 and the chosen location was set near the river bank, the viaduct, two metro stations, the bus hub, and a sophisticated tram system. The Danube House was to become the first building of this new business area by being finished in the summer of 2003. It has a total office area of 19 800 m2 on eleven above-ground floors. It is interesting to note that the location at the bank of Vltava influenced the design, which bears the reference to a giant ship, whose bow faces the river and Negrelli viaduct. It is remarkable for its glass atrium with greenery and a red sandstone facade. A similarity to the ship is an architectural reference to the times when KARLIN was a harbor.
Intriguingly, the Danube House made a start for a two-decade period of construction of a complex of buildings. At present RIVER CITY PRAGUE comprises the Nile House and Amazon Court, Missouri House, and Mississippi House (the last two completed in the summer of 2021), with a total area of more than 60 hectares. In regard to the pioneer building, it gained several distinctive architectural awards, which could help the Casino Royale filming crew make up their mind to shoot the opening scene here. The year 2006 was not the only time when the Danube House made its way to the cinema. Three years later, in 2009 Stephen Sommers ‘G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra’ used the site as the exterior for the fictional ‘DeCobray Laboratories’.
THE MIAMI BODY WORLDS EXHIBITION: MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT
Followed by several picturesque and later passionate scenes with James Bond in Nassau, 007 traces Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian) to Miami in the United States. James’ target is going to the ‘Body Worlds Exhibition’ where he is supposed to pass a bag to a terrorist. The next Prague location was chosen primarily to look like a site of the art exhibition. With an understanding that the scene was filmed in the Czech Republic, it is twice important to have an eye for detail. For example, we identify the palm trees in front of the building, which was intentionally added as props or CGI to make the location look like Miami. Another detail that is easily recognizable is the inscription on the taxi door once again reminds us about Florida. After James finishes with Dimitrios we may once again catch a glimpse of the same front side and the street in front of it. The giant erection which in fact has no correlation to the arts is the Ministry of Transport of the Czech Republic located at nábř. L. Svobody 1222 one city block from the Danube House, where the opening black-and-white scene was filmed. The Casino Royale filming crew paid no visit to Miami and was satisfied with Prague’s alternative.
It is notable that in the past the location was known for its mills, which were later destroyed in the fire. The monumental building in the neoclassical style we see today took five years of construction and was finished in 1932 as a headquarters for the Ministry of railways of Czechoslovakia at that time, a young state, which had emerged after the First World War. A symmetric rectangular building that faces the Vltava river bank comprises several wings. The front side is off-center in regard to the side wings. The initial plan suggested the Ministry building even larger with 847 rooms, yet the boosted expanse for construction restricted an ambitious project. It was a mannered front side which made the filming crew make up their mind to use it in the movie thanks to the statues, the four figures of eagles, the portals and anteas, lodges, and decorative elements: all this make it look elegant enough to be regarded as a home for the art exhibition.
In less than half a century after the building’s erection, in 1975 it was enlisted as the monument of Czech culture. It has been open to the public on doors open day annually since 2013. When it comes to the Ministry of Transport, it used to change its namings and headquarters for decades. In regard to this particular palace-like building on the bank of Vltava, it accommodated the local office of the Communist party between 1960 and 1990. A well-known Czech leader of the communist era Gustav Husak used to live here. At the moment of Casino Royale production in 2006, the Ministry of Transport was a part of the Ministry of Information and since 2007 it has become an independent division itself. It must be said that its employees have a lot of work while operating 10 000 km of railway and 60 000 km of highways and roads, some of them of international European importance.
It is remarkable to understand that those few seconds of the front side in Casino Royale were the only appearance in the story. Despite the fact that the Ministry of Transport is known for its elegant interiors, the sequence at the exhibition was filmed within another well-known location in Prague: National Monument at Vítkov. The very first mention of this hill could be traced up to 1041. In those old times, the mountain was covered with forest, which Emperor Charles IV ordered to be cut down to make space for grape bushes. The location gained its naming as a devotion to the Czech national hero Vitkov, who once had his grape plantation on the hill. The site was largely affected by a series of European wars and was decided to be restored as a city park as late as the XIX century. The giant building 31.5 meters high, where the Casino Royale scenes of the exhibition were filmed, had been built in 1932. During WWII the Germans turned it into a warehouse and after 1948 the Communist regime used the memorial to bury its autocratic leaders here. The Vitkov memorial witnessed another renovation in the late XX century and as early as 2000 became a part of the Historical museum, which itself is a part of the National Museum of Prague, which would have its own place in the article further down the material. Apart from Casino Royale, the memorial made its way to Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Hellboy’ and in 2022 one of the scenes of ‘The Gray Man’ (with Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas) was shot here as well. The building is accessible to the public and I would visit it during my next journey to Prague, which to my regret I did not perform in 2019.
VENETIAN HOTEL: THE NATIONAL MUSEUM
The final third part of Casino Royale was primarily set in Italy, with an accent on the breathtaking Venice. With this in mind, it is doubly remarkable that even such an elegant city bored the interior of one of the most beautiful buildings in Prague. In a sequence with Bond and Vesper staying in the Venetian Hotel, the lobby was actually filmed inside Prague’s National Museum on Wenceslas Square. This magnificent building is definitely the most cited among the Prague filming locations in my articles from the Czech Republic. If only to mention high-budget widely-known Western projects of the past quarter century, Mission impossible was the pioneer of filming here in 1996 by turning the museum hall into a U.S. embassy in Prague. As early as 2001 the National Museum of Prague played the role of the London gallery in ‘From Hell’ with Johnny Depp. Two years later it appeared in ‘Hitler: The rise of evil’ as a palace in Berlin in the 1930s. In 2004 ‘Narodni Muzeum’ made its way to ‘Eurotrip’ as interiors of the magnificent Vatican palace and also was used for Hannibal Rising (2007).
When it comes to the National Museum of Prague, it is important to highlight two worthy dates, which literally preceded the building of a monumental building facing Wenceslas Square. The year of the French revolution 1789 also witnessed the establishment of ‘Česká společnost nauk’ (The Czech Society of Science) and as late as 1818 the ‘Vlastenecké muzeum’ (National museum) was founded. For the first half a century of its existence, the museum did not have its own home, large enough to accommodate all the treasures of Czech history and culture. At the start, the museum items were stored at St. Jakuba monastery (klášteř u sv. Jakuba), and later at Sternber palace (Šternberský palác) and Nostic palace (Nostický palác). Finally, as late as 1883 Prague’s authorities announced a competition for a project of a new museum building on a plot of land of 1.35 hectares in the heart of Prague on the site of the former historical defending walls. The construction works took five years until completion in 1890 and demanded merely 2 million golden coins to fulfill an ambitious project of Josef Schulz.
A spacious palace in neo-renaissance style appears to look like a giant rectangular 104*74 meters and a height of 70 meters at its highest point. In order to try to understand the grandiosity of the building, let’s mention that the National Museum on Wenceslas Square has 562 windows and more than three and a half thousand doors. The new home for the masterpieces of Czech history was inaugurated in 1891 and the interior, which would later attract the filming crew of Casino Royale, was once created by acclaimed masters of their time: a process that took another two decades. The museum has been referred to as ‘Narodni Muzeum’ since 1922. It is interesting to note that all the movies I have mentioned above took advantage of the building in the years before its latest renovation, which took place in the 2010s. The building is regarded as a national monument of the Czech Republic and its hall, which was used to depict the lobby of a Venetian hotel, still impresses with statues and stucco of men of genius.