National Treasure: Book Of Secrets | 2007
No sooner has Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) rescued the Gates family from notoriety as treasure-hunting nuts than Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) pops up to implicate them in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. What’s the betting Ben will need to start following cryptic clues hidden within ancient artefacts?
The prologue, set in ‘19th Century Washington DC’, was filmed on the Universal Studios’ New York Street backlot and the whole of that pretty convincing tavern was built in the studio, but the assassination of Lincoln at ‘Ford’s Theatre’ – that was filmed in the UK.
Opened in 1899 (34 years after the death of Lincoln) and designed by theatre architect Frank Matcham, the Richmond has featured regularly onscreen. As far back as 1957 it appeared as the ‘Palace Theatre’ from which TV celeb Sonny MacGregor (Peter Sellers) broadcasts in darkly satirical comedy The Naked Truth, as the ‘Buenos Aires’ theatre in which Eva Duarte (Madonna) first meets Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce) in Evita, and it’s where Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is playing Hamlet at the beginning of The Wolfman.
Oddly, the Richmond was used as ‘Ford’s Theatre’ again in Harold Ramis’s disappointing Bedazzled (the 2000 revamp of 1960s comedy Bedazzled), with Brendan Fraser as (momentarily) Lincoln and Elizabeth Hurley as the Devil.
The lecture hall, where Wilkinson interrupts Ben Gates’ talk with shocking evidence of the Gates’ treachery, is the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, 101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, south of DC across the Potomac River in Virginia. Built in the 1920s, this nine-story neoclassical structure functions as a memorial, a museum, an active Masonic temple and a performing arts space.
Ben has to inform his father Patrick (Jon Voight) whose home is, as it was in the first film, is over on the West Coast at 1030 Buena Vista Street in South Pasadena.
Following the success of the previous adventure, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) is happily signing copies of his book, The Templar Treasure, at Border’s bookstore in the old Garfinkel’s department store building, 600 14th Street NW at F Street, Washington DC, when his smart, new red Ferrari is towed away from F Street in lieu of back taxes.
Having to plod home on foot, Riley finds Ben waiting on the doorstep. His townhouse, supposedly ‘3431 Westwood Terrace, DC’ is actually in London’s Primrose Hill, at 3 Sharpleshall Street, Chalk Farm, NW1. It’s only a minute away from the home of the Brown family, where the little lost Peruvian bear stays, in Paddington.
Having split from Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), Ben is obliged, with assistance from Riley, to break into his former home, which has metamorphosed from the modest house seen at the end of National Treasure into the palatial Greystone Mansion, of the Greystone Park & Mansion, 905 Loma Vista Road, in Beverly Hills, California.
This mansion isn’t open to the public, but the extensive formal gardens are (and admission is free). The mansion has been seen in numerous films including Ghostbusters, Joel and Ethan Coen's The Big Lebowski, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy (as the Osborne home), Star Trek Into Darkness, Brian de Palma’s Phantom Of The Paradise, The Witches of Eastwick, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige and There Will Be Blood.
With Abigail reluctantly involved, the is team back together. The lab in which they analyse the diary page and discover (surprise!) a secret cypher is the 1940 FE Weymouth Treatment Plant of the Metropolitan Water District System in La Verne, east of Los Angeles.
Abigail naively passes on Ben Gates’ discovery to the scheming Wilkinson over drinks in the Gallery Bar and Cognac Room of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, 506 South Grand Avenue on Pershing Square, Downtown Los Angeles. The hotel is another screen regular – probably most famous from Beverly Hills Cop – and we’ll see more of it later.
The cypher points Gates and co to the less famous version of the Statue of Liberty (yes, it is real) which can be found in Paris at the southern tip of the Allée des Cygnes, the narrow artificial island running through the centre of the River Seine.
It’s actually alongside the Pont de Grenelle, about a mile downriver from the Eiffel Tower and facing southwest, towards its sister in New York City, but the film moves it around a little.
The bridge on which Riley gets his drone to photograph a vital inscription on the statue, while Ben talks with helpful gendarmes, is the more photogenic road-rail double-decker Pont de Bir-Hakeim, familiar on-screen from Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris.
And that’s all there is of Paris.
The inscription alerts the team to those twin ‘Resolute Desks’. Within the general silliness of the plot lie surprising kernels of fact and as it turns out, these desks and the story behind them, are real. There’s still a slight deception – in reality the British desk resides not in London’s Buckingham Palace but in another royal residence, Windsor Castle in Berkshire.
You’ll not be surprised that, apart from a couple of exterior shots from outside the gates, Her Maj didn’t open up Buckingham Palace for filming.
It’s owned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, although conferences are held here, the breathtaking Louis XIV interior is rarely open to the general public. You’ll probably have to content yourself with seeing it on screen, and you have plenty of opportunities.
Lancaster House is featured in Warren Beatty’s Oscar-winning 1981 historical epic Reds, the Merchant-Ivory adaptation of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl and Oliver Parker’s 2002 adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest.
The ‘Queen’s study’, which supposedly holds the desk, was recreated on the second floor of Lancaster House.
The off-limits areas where Riley hacks the palace’s security system are the bowels of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, again, in Downtown Los Angeles. Those American-style toilets are a bit of a giveaway.
By the way, if you’re thinking of visiting the real Buckingham Palace, it’s not quite as easy as the film makes it appear. Only part of the building is open to the public, and then for only a limited period each year.
Once the next clue is retrieved from the desk, a faked fire alarm allows the team to escape among fleeing tourists. The carefully angled overhead shot disguises the fact that the gate through which the crowds pour is not that of Buckingham Palace at all but the Eastern Gate to the Old Royal Naval College, on Park Row, Greenwich SE10 in southeast London.
It’s immediately back to the real environs of the Palace to find Gates’s car parked on Cleveland Row, St James’s, alongside Green Park. It’s here that the dogged Wilkinson, with designs on that mysterious wooden block, suddenly turns up.
There’s some frantic manoeuvring around this usually quiet little square – and surprisingly few police considering how close it is to the royal residence – as Gates and the crew make a fast getaway.
The ensuing road chase makes no sense at all geographically but it’s designed to be visually exciting not a visitors' guide to the city.
From Cleveland Row, the cars speed across Westminster Bridge to south of the river purely to justify the touristy shot of the Houses of Parliament and the tower usually known as Big Ben (the rest of the chase takes place almost entirely north of the river).
Much of the mayhem takes place in the heart of the City of London’s business district some way to the east, on Cornhill (a stretch of road seen in Bridget Jones’s Diary and Suffragette), near the Bank of England.
The pursuing Fuller's London Pride beer truck ploughs through the little terrace cafes on narrow Birchin Lane as people scatter. This is actually a quiet little alleyway populated by workers walking to and from nearby offices and all of those cafes and shop signs are fake.
The cars career randomly through Trinity Square (near the Tower of London) – and the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College again in Greenwich again before the chase ends on Southwark Bridge when Ben flings the precious piece of wood into the River Thames (after recording it on what he must assume is a phenomenally high-resolution traffic camera).
The photo of the ancient artefact reveals a reference to ‘Cibola’ – one of the mythical Seven Cities of Gold – but a full translation demands the talents of Ben’s mother Emily (Helen Mirren).
It transpires that a vital missing half of the inscription is hidden in the other Resolute Desk, of course, the one in the White House.
Fortunately, Abigail has connections.
The annual ‘Easter Egg Roll’ on the White House lawn was filmed at the familiar Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, east of Pasadena. A huge blue screen (I suppose green wouldn’t have worked for a scene set on a lawn) allowed the digital image of the Presidential residence to be added later.
The 'White House' interior, including the 'Oval Office', was faithfully recreated in the studio. By now, you’d think Hollywood would have its one definitive, reusable Oval Office.
There’s a secret drawer alright, but its contents have already disappeared and it falls Riley to point out that a symbol stamped onto the desk is that of the ‘President’s Book’ – the titular Book of Secrets – known only to the incumbent of the White House and containing the truth behind every conceivable conspiracy theory.
There’s understandable scepticism but it’s away from potential witnesses, by the Reflecting Pool in front of the Capitol, that Sadusky unofficially admits to Ben that this officially non-existent book does in fact exist, though not where it can be found.
Mount Vernon, on the banks of the Potomac River a few miles south of Alexandria, was the plantation home of George Washington and his wife, Martha. Built between 1758 and 1778, it remained Washington's country residence until his death in 1799 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. It's now open to visitors every day of the year.
The estate’s wine cellars, where Ben has to engineer some alone-time with the POTUS (Bruce Greenwood), were meticulously recreated in Disney's Burbank studio but those secret tunnels – they’re pure invention. (Or are they?)
The Library is no stranger to the screen, having featured in the first National Treasure movie as well as 1976 classic All The President's Men but there’s an astonishing amount of location filming actually inside the library. Even the section where the book is finally discovered is the real library, though it’s a small set that was constructed in a usually vacant balcony overlooking the circular Reading Room.
The book reveals – apart from the facts behind Area 51 and the Kennedy assassination – that Cibola exists but that the four monumental figures atop Mount Rushmore were carved deliberately to disguise landmarks that would have revealed its location (yes, that bit of the plot is made up).
And so it’s off to South Dakota.
Surprisingly, this was the first time the famed landmark had been used as a major film location since Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest in 1959 (Alexander Payne's 2013 Nebraska has briefly visited since then).
The film takes a few liberties with the surrounding landscape. There is no lake behind the giant heads.
The body of water beneath which the fabled treasure is eventually found (oops – spoiler! Were you not expecting that?) is Sylvan Lake, which you’ll actually find in Custer State Park, in the Black Hills about five miles southwest of Mount Rushmore. It’s an artificial lake created in 1881 by the damming of a waterway once called Sunday Gulch Creek.