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Wednesday May 22nd 2024

Green Zone | 2010

Green Zone film location: Freemasons Hall, Great Queen Street, Holborn WC2
Green Zone film location: Miller confronts Poundstone in the ‘Republican Palace’: Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, Holborn WC2

After the success of the Bourne franchise, director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon used their clout to make this urgent genre thriller set during the almighty clusterfudge that followed the ‘shock and awe’ attack on Baghdad in March 2003. The fictional story is set against events depicted in Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s eye-opening book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a non-fiction account of the shambolic provisional authority in Baghdad’s International Zone.

Most of Green Zone’s exteriors were filmed in Morocco, mainly around Rabat, a city on the Atlantic coast which, since 1956, has served as Morocco’s capital, and Salé, its ‘twin city’ across the mouth of the Bou Regreg river.

Chief Roy Miller (Damon) and his Mobile Exploitation Team (MET) arrive at ‘Diwaniya’ to investigate a chemical weapons facility, finding nothing but chaotic looting and pigeon droppings. Kenitra, a city 25 miles north of Rabat, stands in for the Iraqi town of ‘Diwaniya’.

The MET D convoy’s subsequent push through a ‘Baghdad’ traffic jam was also filmed in Kenitra. The sequence is based on a similar incident in 2003, shot for CBS News by British cameraman Nick Turner and then-CBS News producer Michael Bronner.

‘Saddam International Airport’, where Pentagon official Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) enthusiastically greets the returning exiled politician, Zubaidi, is Kenitra Military Air Base, a former US Naval Air Station.

The airport interior, though, where Miller ruffles feathers at a briefing by questioning the accuracy of the WMD intel, is Sandown Park Racecourse, Portsmouth Road, Esher, in Surrey.

Sandown's Surrey Hall became the airport and Sandown View, which is the members' bar on race days, was transformed into the air traffic control room. For a racecourse, Sandown seems to have a distinct airport vibe, having previously appeared as ‘Johannesburg Airport’ in Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom and yet another air terminal in rom-com Love Actually.

Several locations are knitted together to represent Saddam’s ‘Republican Palace’, which is used as the coalition HQ.

The grand interiors where Miller finally confronts Poundstone with his intel is the Second Vestibule of the Freemasons’ Hall, the imposing art deco landmark at 60 Great Queen Street in Covent Garden, London, WC2, an adaptable and frequently used location, recently seen in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, as a nightclub in Fast and Furious: Hobbs & Shaw and as the 'International Court of Justice in the Hague' in The Hitman's Bodyguard.

The ‘Al Mansour’ dig, where Miller begins to realise that the search for WMD is futile, and gets information about the whereabouts of leading Ba’athists from Freddy (Khalid Abdalla), an enthusiastically helpful local, is Salé. A upscale area of the same city was used for the raid on the safe house, from which the wanted Ba’athist General Al Rawi – the ‘Jack of Clubs’ – (Igal Naor) escapes.

Miller’s promising questioning of Hamza, one of the captured, Ba’athists is interrupted by the airborne arrival of Briggs (Jason Isaacs), who spirits away the prisoners. There were no Black Hawk helicopters available to the production, so three ‘Hueys’ (older ’copters first used in Vietnam) were digitally transformed into Black Hawks during postproduction.

Apart from Morocco, there was filming in the UK and in Spain, where the Los Alcázares Military Air Base, on the Mediterranean Sea in south-eastern Spain’s Murcia province, provided locations for Saddam’s pillaged Mukhabarat intelligence headquarters, as well as exteriors for the Republican Palace.

Green Zone location: Updown Court, Windlesham, Surrey
Green Zone location: the palace in which Miller is billeted: Updown Court, Windlesham, Surrey | Photograph: wikimedia / LordWishanger

The incongruously luxurious palace in which Miller and his team are stationed is Updown Court, a then-new and unoccupied luxury manor house in the village of Windlesham, northwest of Woking, in Surrey.

The most expensive country property ever to go on sale in the UK – at over £70 million – Updown Court’s grounds are claimed to be larger in area than both royal residences of Buckingham Palace and Hampton Court combined.

With a growing suspicion they’ve been fed BS, Miller accepts a clandestine task from veteran CIA operative Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) to contact Hamza, the prisoner seized by Briggs, who’s being held at ‘Camp Cropper’.

The prison camp was built at QinetiQ, a former tank factory at Chertsey, also in Surrey. The interior of Al Rawi’s house, seen during the raid on Baghdad, had also been built here – mounted on pneumatically inflated bellows to shake the set violently as bombs fall.

Discovering that the military has already had a secret meeting with Al Rawi, Miller goes to talk to Wall Street Journal scribe Lawrie Dane (Amy Ryan) about the mysterious source called ‘Magellan’. Still in the UK, her hotel is the Renaissance London Heathrow Hotel, Bath Road in Hounslow, alongside Heathrow Airport.

Miller sets up a meeting with the fugitive Al Rawi in ‘Adhamiya’, which was a Sunni-dominated Baghdad neighbourhood on the eastern side of the Tigris River. The tense assignation at the deserted bus station was once again filmed in Salé.

Miller is abducted and taken to Al Rawi, only to escape when Briggs and his team stage an assault on the house where he’s being held.

The subsequent chase and shoot-out in the maze of benighted streets was filmed in the desolate Millennium Mills site in East London’s Docklands.

One of the largest mill complexes ever to be built in London, Millennium Mills occupies a 59-acre site along the Royal Victoria Docks in the south east of the city. The Docks closed in 1984, but the Millennium Mills have gone on to become a familiar image of post-industrial Britain, a backdrop for many films and TV shows, including Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece, Brazil.