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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy films Cold War Europe in London, Budapest and Istanbul

A new version of John le Carré’s Cold War spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been filmed on location in London, Budapest and Istanbul. Set in the early 1970s, the film uses the cities as functional meeting places, in some cases using locations rumoured to have been real spy meeting spots.

Steven Mortimore was the film’s Location Manager and found places all over London to use for scenes set in the English capital. Among them was the former Inglis Barracks at Mill Hill East in north London, which became useful owing to the 60s and 70s style of the architecture. Then there was Blythe House – pictured below that’s currently a storage facility for several London museums – that became the main double for Cambridge Circus, the home of MI6 in the story.

We hired our own vehicle ferry for the period to commute and shoot with the entire unit on board and to move around the locations as this was far quicker than the prospect of being stuck in traffic.

Alex Sutherland, AZ Celtic Films

Filming in Istanbul took place on both the Asian and European sides of the city, with Director Tomas Alfredson keen to find areas that were both 70s in their look and consciously steering away from more recognisable landmarks. The city’s main ferry passenger terminal became a focus point for the shoot but it took lengthy negotiations to make it work as it had never been used before as a filming location.

The production team got creative with transport to minimise the risks of getting caught in the busy city traffic and losing time on what was already a tight filming schedule. Alex Sutherland, of AZ Celtic Films, line produced the Istanbul shoot: “We hired our own vehicle ferry for the period to commute and shoot with the entire unit on board and to move around the locations as this was far quicker than the prospect of being stuck in traffic.

“The biggest challenge was to find a 70-metre cargo ship to dock at the port on our specific schedule. Not only was it difficult to find a ship of the period that needed to be Russian but also to get the permission for a cargo ship to dock at a passenger terminal.”

Sutherland worked through Government contacts to shut the terminal down for two days to enable them to get all the footage they needed. Set dressing was essentially restricted to signage and other minor period dressing at all the Istanbul locations as the buildings already fit with the time period. One street also doubled for Paris, as again the lack of landmarks in the script worked to the team’s advantage.

Filming in Budapest focused on the Parizsi Udvar (Paris Court), and on the eastern and western train station. The Budapest Train Museum provided two period locomotives for the Western Train Station shoot and filming took place while the location was still open to the public. The crew did what they could to divert crowds and five different bus routes were diverted.

[The Budapest locations] were chosen for their artistic flavour for the time period, as well as for historical events which took place there. For instance, in Budapest history it is told that lots of spy meetings took place at the Parisian Court Building. The Director had done his homework.

Artist Robinson, Raleigh Film

Artist Robinson, with Raleigh Film, worked on the Budapest leg: “The locations which were picked – the Parisian Court Building, streets around the Eastern Train Station, the interior and exterior of the Western Train Station and the Fisherman’s Bastion – were chosen for their artistic flavour for the time period, as well as for historical events which took place there. For instance in Budapest history it is told that lots of spy meetings took place at the Parisian Court Building. The Director had done his homework.”

Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy features a stellar cast, including Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch. It opens in the UK on 16th September 2011 and spreads to the rest of the world from the end of October.

Images courtesy of Steven Mortimore, Alex Sutherland, Argus Productions and Working Title Films.

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