Wonder Woman | 2017
At last, an out-and-out success for the DC Universe with Patty Jenkins’s good vs evil epic which thankfully puts character and plot before dark existential brooding.
The brief prologue sees Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) arriving at the courtyard of the Louvre Museum in Paris, as a Wayne Enterprises vehicle delivers the mysterious briefcase which turns out to contain mementos of her (far) distant past.
Once Diana is inside the gallery, that pair of Assyrian winged bulls alerts us to the fact that this is not 'Paris' at all but the interior of the British Museum, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1.
The narrative immediately flashes back to Diana’s youth among the Amazonian warrior women of ‘Themyscira’. This seductively beautiful, and man-free island, is made up of several Italian locations, greatly extended with digital landscapes and waterfalls.
The streets and terraces, where the young Diana runs from her school tutor, more eager to learn combat skills, are the ancient town of Matera, in the remote southern region of Basilicata, down in the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’.
Matera is an ancient city of cave-houses (known as sassi) which were dug from the soft volcanic tufa rock. What look like normal houses are windowless grottoes with earth floors. Although façades and roofs were added, the interiors remained virtually unchanged until, in 1952, unhealthy conditions prompted the Italian government to declare the sassi uninhabitable.
Its nearly 15,000 residents were moved to more modern accommodation but in the 1980s that a few residents began to move back and renovate the old houses.
In 1993 the town was granted UNESCO World Heritage status and is now undergoing something of a renaissance with hotels and restaurants.
Matera was seen previously in Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, Pier Paolo Pasolini's vastly superior Gospel According to Matthew and in Bruce Beresford's largely forgotten 1985 King David, with Richard Gere. The town also supplied 'Jerusalem' for the 2006 remake of The Omen, with Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles.
The nearest airport is Aeroporto di Puglia, in Bari, around 40 miles to the north.
The terrace on which Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her about the legend of the ‘god killer’ sword, is the Terrace of Infinity overlooking the Amalfi coast of the Villa Cimbrone. The terrace decorated with marble busts is the Terrace of Infinity, the villa’s famous Belvedere overlooking the Amalfi coast – “the most beautiful view in the world” according to writer Gore Vidal, who took up permanent residence in Ravello.
The villa dates from before the 11th century, and has included DH Lawrence and Greta Garbo among its guests. You can add your name to the illustrious list – it's now a hotel.
Themyscira’s seafront is Palinuro, on the southern side of Cilento, on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The town is famous for its sea caves, popular with visitors and scuba divers.
It’s here, years later, that US spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) in his stolen plane, plunges into the sea and German soldiers from WWI come ashore to pit their guns against the skills of the Amazons.
Learning from Steve of the ‘War to end all wars’, Diana determines that it’s her duty to intervene and to defeat the god Ares, who’s clearly behind the conflict.
For this task she'll need the legendary sword. The exterior of the fortified tower from which she steals the weapon is CGI, but the interior is Castel del Monte, a 13th-century citadel on a hill in Andria in the Apulia region of southeast Italy, built by the Emperor Frederick II.
Castel del Monte was one of the locations for Matteo Garrone’s 2015 fantasy film Tale of Tales (Il Racconto dei Racconti), with Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, and John C Reilly. It's also the castle which inspired the 'Aedificium', the setting for Umberto Eco’s novel The Name Of The Rose (although the 1986 film was made in Germany).
Far away from the Amazons' idyllic home, the ‘Ottoman Fort’, in which Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) and German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) are perfecting a terrible new gas weapon when Steve makes off with a vital notebook, is Tilbury Fort in Essex.
Tilbury is an artillery fort on the north bank of the River Thames about 20 miles east of London. The earliest version of the fort was commissioned by King Henry VIII to protect the city against attack from France but was reinforced for Queen Elizabeth I in anticipation of the Spanish Armada. Following naval raids during the Anglo-Dutch Wars, the fort was enlarged yet again to become the huge five-sided, star-shaped fort with four angular bastions and water-filled moats you can see today.
Open to the public since 1983, Tilbury Fort is now operated by English Heritage as a tourist attraction. A couple of miles to the east, in East Tilbury, you'll find Coalhouse Fort which appeared in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins.
Taking their leave of Themyscira, Diana and Steve head toward Europe, sailing up the River Thames to a digitally recreated 1918 London (“It’s hideous!”) with Tower Bridge and the old warehouses and wharves that once lined the river.
Far from the Thames, the bustling ‘riverside’ at which they come ashore is Old Square of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the heart of the city’s old legal district. This should be familiar territory to Chris Pine – he was here in Kenneth Branagh’s 2014 film of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
As they leave the Square, they walk along Stone Buildings where Diana is entranced by a newborn baby. No, Stone Buildings doesn't lead to 'St Paul's Cathedral' – the famous landmark was added digitally.
Their destination is ‘Selfridge & Co’, the luxury department store (which actually stands on busy Oxford Street in the West End), to get Diana a less attention-grabbing outfit.
The lavish interior, where they meet Steve’s secretary, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), and Diana buys those damned impractical and restrictive clothes, is the pink marble lobby of Australia House, at the eastern end of the traffic island, where The Strand meets Aldwych. Unfortunately, you’ll have to be satisfied with the exterior – it’s not open to the public.
The store’s entrance, where Diana has a bit of a problem with her sword and a revolving door, is Victoria House, on Bloomsbury Square. This impressive Grade II listed building, occupying the block bounded by Bloomsbury Square to the west and Southampton Row to the east, was built in the 1920s for the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society. It's another location seen in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (as Moscow's ‘Hotel Grushinski’) as well as becoming the bank robbed in Jonathan Glazer’s surreal 2000 caper Sexy Beast, and which houses the old-world suite of dying businessman Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite) in Christopher Nolan's Inception (Victoria House's Conference Room).
Leaving her trusty sword with Etta, Diana walks with Steve across Bloomsbury Way and into Sicilian Avenue, the tiny, quirky pedestrian shopping street with an unusual entrance of classical columns, which runs diagonally between Bloomsbury Way and Southampton Row. It’s here Steve becomes aware of German spies.
The ‘British War Office’, where the staid old buffers are astonished by the appearance of – Good God! – a woman, is a studio set but the entrance hall where Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) refuses Diana and Steve permission to attack the German arms lab is that of One Great George Street, once the Institute of Civil Engineers now a conference centre and wedding venue set in a magnificent Grade II listed, four-domed, Edwardian building in Westminster.
It’s a frequent location, seen in 2015 drama Woman In Gold, with Helen Mirren, 2009 political satire In The Loop, 2004 sequel Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason, and Bean, where its Great Hall doubles as London's 'National Gallery'. Previously, the building was featured in two Oscar winning films, Warren Beatty’s 1981 Reds and Richard Attenborough's 1982 Gandhi.
The 'olde London pub' in which Steve assembles a ragtag team for their rogue mission is a studio set, but 'Paddington Station, 1918' couldn't be reproduced on a soundstage.
The real Paddington Station is now a little too modernised for the period of the film so King’s Cross Station stands in. It's here Diana samples her first ice cream as the team joins the throng of troops heading for 'The Front'.
Although it's one of London's busiest rail stations, two of King's Cross's platforms had to be closed for two days as vintage railcars were transported from the Bluebell Railway in Sheffield Park in East Sussex, about 40 miles south of London.
Yes, of course King’s Cross is famous as the station from which Harry departs for Hogwart’s in Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone. To see the interior of the real Paddington Station on screen, see Paddington, as the lovable Peruvian bear arrives in the capital.
The port from which the team departs and where Diana is shocked by the sight of the returning war-wounded, is the pier and terminal at Tilbury Docks (near to the ‘Ottoman Fort’ location) in Essex.
In the days before cheap air travel and ocean liners were the main mode of international travel, Tilbury was the closest purpose-built terminal to central London. From the 1930s to the 1960s the landing stage handled departures to such exotic destinations as Buenos Aires, New York, Cape Town and Sydney.
The docks and the grounds of St Margaret of Antioch Church in Lower Halstow, east of Chatham in Kent, serve as the ‘Belgian’ coast where Wonder Woman and her team first land.
The Belgian village of ‘Veld’, where Wonder Woman takes out the sniper in the church belltower and the team poses for the photograph, was built on the lot at the Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden, Hertfordshire. The no-man's-land where Diana goes over the top, is also Leavesden.
Once an old Rolls Royce aircraft plant, the disused facility was first used as a studio to film the first Pierce Brosnan Bond movie, GoldenEye, in 1994. It's since been developed to become the vast Leavesden Studio, home of the Harry Potter films and the Warner Bros Studio Tour.
Learning of a prestigious pre-Armistice gala, and despite a warning from Sir Percy to stay away, the team rides through the familiar Bourne Wood just south of Farnham, Surrey, the site of the opening battle of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and revisited in 2009 by Scott and Russell Crowe for the castle and village sets in Robin Hood.
The exterior of ‘Belgian’ chateau used as the ‘German High Command’, where Ludendorff and Dr Maru are attending the fancy do, is Arundel Castle, Arundel, West Sussex. The castle is usually much more English, standing in for ‘Windsor Castle’ in both 1994’s The Madness Of King George and 2009 period drama The Young Victoria, with Emily Blunt as the youthful monarch. Wannabe actor Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui) exploits the stereotype of the grovelling driver who’s lost the invitation as Steve enters the castle by its old entrance.
Once inside, the gala itself is staged in the Long Gallery of Hatfield House, Hatfield, a Jacobean pile seen in the turgid Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (where it became the interior of Scotland's Floors Castle), the film of Virginia Woolf's gender-shifting fantasia, Orlando, Shekhar Kapur's epic Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 1970 historical epic Cromwell and of course as the mansion of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, among many others.
The Long Gallery was also the gaming room of ‘Wayne Manor’, where Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) asks “Who’s Bruce Wayne?” in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman as well as the home of Veronica Salt in the same director's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
Steve dissuades Diana from killing Ludendorff there and then but she finally faces him at the ‘Belgian’ air base, which is Upper Heyford air base in Bicester, Oxfordshire, where the Bluebell Railway's rolling stock makes another appearance.
Diana is flummoxed when hostilities continue after she’s killed Ludendorff, whom she believed to be Ares, God of War, but as the battle grinds on, the true identity of Ares is revealed.
If you don’t know the final outcome of WWI, there may be a spoiler ahead.
British victory is celebrated in Trafalgar Square, with the pillared frontage of the National Gallery and views down Whitehall to the clock tower of Big Ben.
Blue screens were erected to allow modern buildings to be removed digitally but astonishingly the whole scene, with dozens of extras was filmed in an incredible 15 minutes.