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London on screen: How ‘GoldenEye’ turned Somerset House into St Petersburg

London on screen:  How ‘GoldenEye’ turned Somerset House into St Petersburg

‘GoldenEye’ sent 007 to Russia, right? Well, kinda. James Bond’s car chase across St Petersburg was actually filmed a lot closer to home: right in the middle of London, in fact.

The location
:
Somerset House, Strand.

The scene: After branding him a ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’, M (Judi Dench) sends MI6 secret agent James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to Russia to investigate a supposed terrorist attack. He’s greeted at the airport by CIA operative Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker), but the old banger he’s driving quickly breaks down on a bustling street. 

Then: With Cold War tensions still high in 1995, ‘GoldenEye’ director Martin Campbell had only limited filming time in Russia. Enter Somerset House as a double for St Petersburg. ‘It looks imposing and authoritarian,’ explains production manager Crispin Reece. ‘It was a cold, grey April day [when we filmed], so it was a shoo-in for Russia. We imported 40 Russian cars and got them to drive around and around in the square.’

Andy Parsons

Now: Somerset House has been open to the public since 2000, becoming a buzzy tourist location in the process. It’s also popped up in films including ‘X-Men First Class’ and had a second Bond outing, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, where it doubled for the MoD. You can watch movies there this summer too (though no Bond films), as part of the Film4 Summer Screen season.

Find out what’s showing at Somerset House this summer in the Film4 Summer Screen season.

For more of the city on screen, check out our list of the 30 best London movies.

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