Top 10……Films Set Around Christmas!

It’s Christmas time and holiday cheer is very much on the horizon which often involves people watching classic festive films like ‘Scrooge‘, ‘A Christmas Carol‘, ‘Santa Clause: The Movie‘, erm ‘Jingle All The Way‘ or many of the special TV episodes filmed for this time of the year.

Others like ‘Home Alone‘ (1990), ‘Die Hard‘ (1988), ‘Gremlins‘ (1984) and ‘Lethal Weapon‘ (1987) which are just set during the Christmas season are also popular choices so I have delved into the archives to find some movies (of course ones that I have been to some filming locations of!) with seasonal connections whether it be a major one or a really tenuous link!

So here then, in no particular order, is the TF top 10……

1. In Bruges (2008) – Certainly not the first one that comes to mind when you think of films taking place at Christmas! Two Irish hit-men hide out in Belgium during the holiday season not that it’s at all important to the storyline. The woman at the Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel, where they stay, is doing something with the Christmas tree in one scene and their angry boss, Ralph Fiennes, shouts at his wife in front of their tree and kids in another.

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2. Ghostbuster II (1989) – The sequel is set in New York City during the Christmas period and culminates on New Years Eve as a crowd of locals sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. A Christmas tree is visible during at least one scene and I guess one other festive link this has is that it was made (according to some critics!) to sell toys at Christmas time!

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3. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – This Stanley Kubrick-directed erotic thriller is not your traditional Christmas film in any way! It opens at a big Christmas party before  Tom Cruise’s jealous character goes on a sexual odyssey so that he can feel equal to his “cheating” wife. However, not all is straight forward as he soon witnesses a secret sex society and people begin dying. It’s lacking in festive tunes and the common joviality shown by many at that time of the year. Christmas trees can be seen throughout as London doubles up for New York in holiday season.

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4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – In his one and only appearance as James Bond, George Lazenby takes the reins of the double agent in the sixth 007 movie. Part of the film takes place at Grindelwald in Switzerland during the Christmas season snow is all around. Festive connections include a Christmas tree at the Piz Gloria clinic, presents for the ladies and there’s even a Christmas song called “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown.”

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5. Love Actually (2003) – By far the most festive film in this list as a large group of inter-related people are followed for the five weeks leading up to Christmas, exploring their various love-states. An all-star cast take part in this feel-good film.

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6. About A Boy (2002) – Bachelor Will (Hugh Grant) has no job and doesn’t need to have one as he can just live off the royalties of “Santa’s Super Sleigh”; a Christmas song his father composed in the past. Towards the end of the film we see Will hosting a Christmas gathering at his place with his new extended support system.

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7. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) – Thirty-something singleton Bridget is introduced to Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) at her parents’ Christmas party and is not impressed. He’s snooty and wears Christmas jumpers but as we know that eventually changes over time among several pivotal holiday-themed/snow scenes.

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8. The English Patient (1996) – A Hungarian cartographer choosing to maintain the assumption by others that he is an Englishman is badly burned in a plane crash during World War II and relays parts of his past via flashbacks and one of these includes a Christmas party scene where amidst a chorus of Silent Night, Katharine (Kristin Scott Thomas) is seduced by Almásy (Ralph Fiennes).

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9. When Harry Met Sally (1989) – Several Christmas and New Year’s-related scenes take place in this romantic comedy which spans over 15 years.

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10. I am Legend (2007) – A viral outbreak occurs on Christmas Eve 2009 in Manhattan, and quickly spreads across the world. The epidemic seemingly begins in the lead up to the Christmas season and festive decorations can be seen throughout the early parts of this Will Smith movie.

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Bonus: The Bourne Identity (2002) – Remember when Bourne and Marie seeked refuge in the French countryside? Well, they go to stay at her stepbrother’s place where Bourne notices the Christmas lights are still on. That sign of recent occupancy tells him that they have to leave before the owners return. It is also snowing throughout most of the film which is usually a good indication that it’s the holiday season.

Top 10……Movie Locations Where You Can Stay

Hot on the tail of the top (double oh) 7 hotels featured in James Bond films here are the top 10 recommendations for other places where you can spend a night amidst movie history. Just to get things clear you have to pay to stay in all of the listed accommodation rather than just rocking up and pitching a tent outside the filming location!! This list, which is in no particular order, will take you around the globe and offers the full spectrum of price range.

1. Sidi Driss, (from $9 per night) Matmatat-Al-Qadimal, Matmata (Tunisia): Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) – No surprise that this one is featured. Coach loads of tourists stop off here every day yet very few of them actually stay the night! That’s probably because it’s very dirty with poor service! I was the only guest when I stayed there…..but it was a privilege to spend the night at Luke Skywalker’s home! Cheap too!More details here.

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2. On On Hotel (from $3 per night), 19 Phang-Nga Road, Talad Yai, Muang, Phuket  (Thailand): The Beach (2000) – Another ridiculously cheap place to stay. Leonard DiCaprio checks in to this rundown “Kao San Road” backpacker place but its nowhere near the legendary Bangkok spot where western travellers congregate. It is in fact way, way down south in Phuket town. More details here.

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3. Imperial Palace (from $49 per night), 3535 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109  (USA): Austin Powers International Man Of Mystery (1997) – This Nevada state city has been used in many movies over the years and could probably have it’s very own top 10 list (now there’s an idea!) but just the single hotel for this entry and that’s Alotta Fagina’s penthouse suite where Austin shagged her rotten to use his exact words!! It’s since been re-named as The Quad Resort & Hotel. More details here.

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4. Tiki Motel (from $?? per night), 7301 Santa Fe Avenue, Huntington Park, Los Angeles (USA): The Terminator (1984) – John Connor was conceived at this very run-down in what is perhaps the most pivotal point in the whole Terminator franchise. You could stay in the same room where Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese did the deed but in all honesty you probably wouldn’t want to! More details here.

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5. Royal Eagle Hotel (from $627 per night), 26-30 Craven Rd, London W2 3QB (UK): Trainspotting (1996) – The boys take a break from Scotland and head down south to London to do a drug deal. Sick Boy leads the guys out of Smallbrook Mews, across Craven Road in a parody of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover. The “small-time wasters” then wander into the Royal Eagle Hotel. More details here.

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6. Grand Hotel Evropa (from $30 per night), Vaclavske namesti 25, Prague (Czech Republic): Mission: Impossible (1996) – This was the headquarters of mysterious arms dealer Max (Vanessa Redgrave) in the first of this action spy film series based on the TV series from the 60’s and 70’s. More details here.

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7. Westin Grand (from $274 per night), Friedrichstrasse 158 – 164, 10117 Berlin  (Germany): The Bourne Supremacy (2004) – The luxury hotel where Landy stays. Bourne cleverly finds out at reception that she is staying in room 235. He then watches her leave from his position on the 4th floor and then takes the stairs down and goes through the hotels revolving doors where he gets in a taxi and follows her to the CIA hub. More details here.

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8. Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel (from $216 per night), Wollestraat 41-47, Bruges (Belgium): In Bruges (2008) – Dark, comedy thriller featuring Colin Farrell (Ray), Brendan Gleeson (Ken) and Ralph Fiennes (Harry) with the former two Irish hit-men lying low in the Belgian city at this canal-side hotel. More details here.

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9. Four Season’s Hotel (from $750 per night), Teyfikhane Sok No 1 SultanahmetIstanbul 34110 (Turkey): Midnight Express (1978) – This used to be the infamous Sultanahmet jail depicted in this biographical crime drama. More details here.

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10. Plaza Hotel (from $550 per night), 768 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019 (USA): Crocodile Dundee (1986) – What could be better than washing your backside in the same bidet that Mick Dundee (presumably) washed his posterior in? Well sadly that can’t be done here as the facilities don’t have bidets! The interior scenes were shot in the studio but you could still pretend and shout it from the window down to pedestrians on the street below!  More details here.

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BTM Top 5……Mission: Impossible Filming Locations

Fuelled by a memorable and ever-lasting theme tune the ‘Mission: Impossible‘ film series currently stands at four films starring Tom Cruise as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt. There is talk of a fifth movie scheduled for late 2015 but for now we will have to settle for what we’ve got from a series which is the 15th highest grossing film series of all time with over $2 billion worth of worldwide gross. The series has taken place around the globe in the likes of the USA, Australia, England, Czech Republic, UAE, Russia, Scotland, India, Hungary, Canada, China and Italy so here are the TF Top 5…… Mission Impossible locations. Warning! This piece may contain plot spoilers!

1. Xitang, Jiashan County, Zhejiang Province (China): ‘Mission: Impossible III‘ (2006) – Hunt and his team track down the mysterious rabbits foot to Shanghai and, though its not named, the place Hunt ends up in is Xitang. He finds villain Owen Davian here and basically accomplishes his mission. More details here

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2. Bare Island, La Peruse, Bottany Bay, New South Wales (Austrlia): ‘Mission: Impossible II‘ (2000) – This island, south of Sydney, is villain Sean Ambrose’s hideout and one that provides one of the movies most iconic images as Hunt rides his motorcycle through balls of fire as he escapes from the fort. More details here

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3. Charles Bridge, Prague (Czech Repblic): ‘Mission: Impossible‘ (1996) – The world heritage bridge, which connects the Old Town with Prague Castle, is where things really go wrong with controller Jim Phelps plunging into the Vltava having seemingly taken a bullet on the bridge. This famous bridge was also used in music video’s by Linkin Park (‘Numb‘) and Kanye West (‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone‘) as well as 2002 ‘XxX‘ where Vin Diesel comes up with an out-of-this-world stunt to save the bridge and the city of Prague from a deadly bomb. More details here

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4. Anchor Tavern Pub, Southwark, London (UK): ‘Mission: Impossible‘ (1996) – This is the terrace pub on London’s South Bank where Hunt finally gets to take it easy for a few moments as the film comes to a conclusion. More details here

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5. Caserta Palace, Caserta (Italy): ‘Mission: Impossible III‘ (2006) – This palace has featured prominently in movie history and in this film it doubles up as Vatican City which  Ethan and the team infiltrate to capture antagonist Davian who is there to obtain the mysterious ‘Rabbit’s Foot’. More details here

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BTM Top 5……Indiana Jones Filming Locations

Poor old Indy! A classic iconic character from a highly popular franchise but belonging to a franchise that often gets forgotten about when everyone is going on about the Star Wars with regard to Disney’s acquirement of LucasFilm. When they paid $4 billion dollars to buy out the production company they also gained Indiana Jones too. With Walt Disney Studios announcing a week ago that it had reached a marketing and distribution agreement with Paramount Pictures for future Indiana Jones films the process of making and releasing Indy 5 should be much easier. To celebrate the news that there may finally be some more Indiana Jones material on the way, we have managed to cobble together some Indy locations for this feature! Here then, in no particular order, is the TF Top 5……Indiana Jones Filming Locations (that we’ve been to!!)

1. Petra (Jordan) – ‘Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade‘ (1989): The search for the grail leads Indy through the narrow Siq to the splendour of The Treasury at this world heritage site. It featured less memorably in ‘Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger‘ (1977) before our favourite fedora wearing doctor made it more famous over a decade later with Sean Connery, who played his father, by his side. More details here

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2. Sidi Bouhlel, Nefta (Tunisia) – ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark‘ (1981): When it comes to popular cultural references, yet again Indiana Jones lives in the shadows of ‘Star Wars‘ where the canyon memorably featured in the 1977 original film. George Lucas was obviously impressed with the area as he used it again years later for the scene where Indiana threatens to blow up the Ark. More details here

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3. Chiesa di San Barnaba, Venice (Italy) – ‘Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade‘ (1989): Indy finds an important clue relating to the numeral ‘X’ in this place which is a library in the film. More details here

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4. Royal Horticultural Hall, London (UK) – ‘Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade‘ (1989): This place in Westminster on Greycoat Street portrayed Berlin Airport as it did yet again in ‘The Saint‘ (1997). More details here

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5. Kairouan (Tunisia) – ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark‘ (1981): The streets of this Islamic holy city in Tunisia’s carpet capital represented Cairo in Egypt and many of these places look very similar today. Perhaps the most famous scene is the one in the market where Harrison Ford (kind of!) improvised a scene and just shot the sword-wielding assassin as the extreme heat was affecting his health and he just wanted a short end to the filming. More details here

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6 Movies ‘Set’ In Japan But Filmed Elsewhere

Unlike other Asian countries, foreign production companies usually remain faithful to Japan by actually filming on location when need be but there are of course times when other places are used to fill in for the country. One of the most common scenarios is for Japanese scenes to be filmed at Japanese, or even Chinese gardens in the USA, Australia or wherever but the following movies were all faked in some way using other countries to double up as Japan.

* The Karate Kid Part II (1989) – The sequel to the classic 1986 film sees Daniel-san follow Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) back to the latter’s homeland to see his dying father in Okinawa whilst settling some old scores. Oahu in Hawaii stood in for the southern Japan island. A scenic area called Kahaluu was spotted in an aerial survey from helicopter by the filmmakers 20 miles from Honolulu.

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The place is 43 acres and is covered with palms and a lagoon which once served as a royal fish pond. Thanks to some of Morita’s connections, filming was able to take place on the land which had been closely preserved before then. An Okinawan village was built and 50 Okinawa-born Hawaii residents were recruited to portray the villagers. Further shooting took place at The Burbank Studios in California where the Naha street and the O-bon dance and finale at the moat-surrounded ruins of the ancient castle were filmed.

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* The Last Samurai (2003) – Whilst some filming was done in Kyoto and Himeji the rest was principally done in New Zealand. The Taranaki region on the west coast of the country’s North Island played host to much of the filming with the Japanese village  constructed on the hillsides of the Uruti Valley where some battle scenes took place too.

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New Plymouth is the major city in the area and its port played the part of the Japanese Port. Less than an hour away from there is Mount Taranaki which portrayed Mount Fuji.  The parade ground, where the Japanese troops are trained to use rifles, and where Algren (Tom Cruise) invites a young recruit to shoot him, is the Pukekura Sports Ground in Pukekura Park, New Plymouth. The ’battle in the fog’ scene was filmed in Mangamahoe Forest, outside the town.

* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993) – Not too much of a shock that this poor second sequel was not filmed in Japan.  It was set in feudal Japan in 1603 even though the movie poster states that it’s set in the year 1593!!  All filming was done nearly 5000 miles away in Astoria, Oregon. (You can see the full movie here)

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* Austin Powers In Goldmember (2002)  – It doesn’t take a genius to realise that none of this third instalment in the Austin Powers trilogy was not filmed anywhere near Tokyo! They didn’t reference this fact quite as blatantly as they did in the second film where Austin Powers (Mike Myers) comments on how England looks remarkably like Californian countryside! 40 minutes into the movie Japan’s capital is seen by way of Dr Evil’s (also played by Mike Myers) new lair which is a submarine in Tokyo Bay in the shape of him including the classic little finger to the mouth. It’s long, hard and full of sea-men! This was supposedly created using CGI and the docks at San Pedro in south Los Angeles.

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The Asahi Sumo Arena doesn’t exist which is where Austin and Foxxy head (albeit with obvious rear projection of Shinjuku in the background) to find Fat Bastard (again played by Mike Myers) who tells them of Roboto Industries whose boss is named purely to give Powers the chance to say “Domo arigatou Mr Roboto” as was sung in Styx’s 1983.

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* Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) – This Japanese volcanic island is actually part of Tokyo albeit a long, long way south (750 km) of the mainland. Access to the island is prohibited (for the general public) but the filmmakers were given special permission by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to film there on a short day trip there. A short scene with Ken Watanabe doing something or another on the beach was shot and then  Sandvik in Iceland was used to replicate its black sand beaches. Other scenes were filmed primarily in Barstow and Bakersfield in California as well as the studio’s in Los Angeles.

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* The Wolverine (2013) – An artistic license was certainly used where the filming of this one was concerned. Sure, the funeral scene really was at Zojoji temple in Tokyo but that footage was all interwoven with what was filmed at Chinese Friendship Gardens in Sydney. The very same gardens were also used in ’The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert‘ (1994). The Australian city was further used with Nagasaki’s wartime prison camp being built at Bonna Point Reserve in Kurnell on the south of Botany Bay.

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Yashida’s heavily-defended compound in Tokyo was actually filmed at the Fox Studios on  the former Sydney Showground at Moore Park. Paramatta is in Sydney’s western suburbs and the intersection of George and Smith Streets doubled up as the Tokyo streets where a foot chase took place. Furthermore,  Sydney Olympic Park was made into a Japanese village draped in snow where Logan (Hugh Jackman) heads to save Mariko from Yashida’s empire in the mountains. Filming also took place on Brisbane Street in Surrey Hills which was transformed to look like a Japanese street with Japanese signs and vehicles scattered throughout.

Italy Filming Locations: Angels & Demons (2009)

It’s fair to say I’ve been to quite a few filming locations over the last five years and as rewarding as they have all been it aint half nice to recognise places you’ve been to when watching an unseen movie. I saw ‘Angels & Demons‘ (2009) recently and was happy to see the story centred around places I’ve already visited. To be fair though, they are pretty famous sights in southern Italy but they certainly helped me get through the film. I was perhaps a little harsh in my review of ‘The Da Vinci Code‘ back in 2006 which in desperate search of a pun I called “a code of cr*p“. Much like that film I was still able to enjoy the fast paced intensity and drama of the action scenes and chases in ‘Angels & Demons’ not that I had much idea what was actually going on! Thankfully there’s Wikipedia for that!

Following the sudden death of the Pope the Roman Catholic Church mourns his death and Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) takes temporary helm at the Vatican. The marble staircase seen in the screenshot below left was obviously not the real one but that of Caserta Palace, just north of Naples, which also played the same part in ‘Mission Impossible III‘ (2006). It is probably more famous as being Queen Amidala’s Theed Palace on Naboo in ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace‘ (1999).

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Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is summoned to save the day and deduces that the four men likely to be elected Pope will all be killed at locations relating to the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – but before all that the pathway leads to the Pantheon on the Pizza della Rotonda. This Roman Catholic church possesses the very impressive concrete dome which is the largest unreinforced one in the world.

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The ‘earth’ element takes Langdon to the Piazza del Popollo where he enters Santa Maria del Popollo and eventually finds the first cardinal with a mouthful of soil in the crypt of this church. Not quite the same place in my picture below but near enough as the place where I could erm, be found with a mouthful of pizza was just a stones throw away from that church!

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The ‘air’ element is at The Vatican City in St Peter’s Basilica. The screenshots below are from the latter part of the movie and not exactly clear as they were nighttime scenes.

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‘Fire’ is represented by the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria where the third cardinal is burned to death. Then its on to ‘water’ at the beautifully picturesque Piazza Navona for one of the most dramatic scenes where the cardinal is dumped into the Fountain of the Four Rivers.

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Having saved the cardinal with the help of some passers-by Langdon is informed by one of them that the illuminati’s lair is Castel Sant’Angelo on the Tiber’s west bank. The barge dance scene in ‘Roman Holiday‘ (1953) took place below the bridge in front of this castle.

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BONUS: Temple Church on Inner Temple Lane in London is where Langdon and Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou of ‘Amelie’ fame) search for the tomb of a knight in ‘The Da Vinci Code‘ (2006) movie which came first although the book by Dan Brown was published after ‘Angels & Demons‘.

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London Filming Locations: Snatch (2000)

After the success of ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels‘ director Guy Ritchie cashed in and made a wholly enjoyable but very similar film before everyone started to get a bit fed up of his London gangster movies.

I’ve only got a few locations to show from this year 2000 movie and the first two are just metres away from each other. First up is ‘Premier House’ (below left) at 12-13 Hatton Gardens which played the part of ‘Denovitz Diamonds’; the diamond shop of Doug ‘The Head’ played superbly by the late Mike Read. Down the alley next to that store is ‘Ye Old Mitre Tavern’ (below right) where we first see Doug getting a phone call whilst Guy Ritchie can be seen reading a newspaper in the background.

 

The Jolly Gardeners (below left) at 49 Black Prince Road doubles up as The Drowning Trout where Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones) is drinking a pint of Guiness after his car crash. Suddenly Sol and his bunch of masked amateurs catch up with him looking to relieve him of the diamond stone. Bullet Tooth Tony is far from intimidated though as he notices that it says replica down the side of Sol’s gun. Typical Ritchie dialogue is used during this exchange of words. Vauxhall on the Victoria Line is the closest underground station and the place has had a bit of a facelift since it was seen in the film (below right) 12 years ago.