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Sunday March 3rd 2024

The Hitman's Bodyguard | 2017

The Hitmman's Bodyguard filming location: Bulgarian National Bank, Sofia
The Hitman's Bodyguard filming location: the 'International Court in the Hague': Bulgarian National Bank, Sofia | Photograph: Google Maps

There’s no Coventry and no Hague, but there is London, Amsterdam and more Bulgaria than you might have realised, in this dream pairing of Samuel L Jackson and Ryan Reynolds, along with a scene-stealing turn from Salma Hayek.

First off, the perfect glass-walled home of top-of-the-range elite bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is Skywood, tucked away in four acres of walled woodland near Denham Aerodrome, Higher Denham in Buckinghamshire.

It’s the self-designed, award-winning house of architect Graham Phillips, boasting an artificial lake and a swimming pool. It’s very private and obviously not visible from the road.

It’s no stranger to the screen though. It was also seen in Ridley Scott's 2013 The Counsellor, with Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem, in little-seen 2005 drama Chromophobia, with Ralph Fiennes and Penélope Cruz, as well as in Ant and Dec’s timeless classic, Alien Autopsy.

Bryce is tasked with escorting Mr Kurosawa to London City Airport – that glass office block in the background is the Newham Dockside development. Oddly (maybe a reshoot?) that reverse shot of Bryce on the blue carpet was filmed in Bulgaria.

The assassination of Kurosawa before the plane leaves the ground loses Bryce his top-tier AAA rating and we catch up with him two years later in London, reduced to escorting a pill-crazed businessman Mr Seifert (Richard E Grant).

The Hitmman's Bodyguard filming location: Broadgate Tower, Primrose Street, London EC2
The Hitman's Bodyguard filming location: Mr Seifert is escorted from his office: Broadgate Tower, Primrose Street, London EC2

The office block from which Seifert is escorted, though without his customised Rolls Royce, is Broadgate Tower on Primrose Street, Bishopsgate EC2, behind Liverpool Street Station. Did you recognize those striking diagonal struts as the ‘Shanghai’ highrise block where Bond (Daniel Craig) tails a hitman in Skyfall?

The flashback to the murder of the family of Professor Asimov by dictator Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) and his men, in the ‘Belarus’ countryside was filmed on the backlot behind the Nu Boyana Film Studios in Sofia, Bulgaria, where a lot of the film was shot.

The studio complex was opened during the Communist regime in 1962 as the Boyana Studios but in 2005 was bought by independent film companies Nu Image and Millennium Films.

The 75-acre complex has ten sound stages and a useful assortment of standing sets representing 'New York', the 'Middle East', ancient 'Rome' and – used a lot in this film – 'London'.

In the present, Asimov is now giving evidence against the captive Dukhovich at the ‘International Court of Justice in the Hague’.

Do you know what the International Court of Justice looks like? I don’t. So why not use a more convenient stand-in – or two separate stand-ins?

The circular chamber was that of Harrow Civic Centre in West London. It looks modern enough and indeed opened in only 1973 but, once the council relocated in 2019 it was no longer used and, since filming, has been demolished.

The ‘court’ exterior is the Bulgarian National Bank, ploshtad ‘Knyaz Aleksandar 1’ 2, 1000 Sofia Center, standing in front of City Garden Park in Sofia.

With more evidence needed to put Dukhovsky behind bars, Interpol strikes a deal with notorious hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson), to pardon his imprisoned wife in return for his giving testimony.

Kincaid is currently being held in the ‘Interpol Central Bureau’ in ‘Manchester’. This block is an entirely digital creation. In fact, if you look closely, it’s missing from the first wide shot!

The underground garage in which Kincaid is prepared for transport is real enough but it’s not in 'Manchester'. With admirable economy, it’s the rear exit of Mr Siefert’s office block, Broadgate Tower, on Principal Place, London EC2.

Heading from ’Manchester’ in the North of England toward ‘Coventry’ in the Midlands, the convoy mysteriously travels via the A1261 through Blackwall, London E14, past the very recognisable Blackwall Tunnel ventilation towers.

With all that gunfire and pyrotechnics that follow, the attack by Dukhovich’s mercenaries was filmed safely on the ‘London’ streets of the Nu Boyana backlot in Sofia.

The only survivors, Kincaid and Interpol operative Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), make it to a conveniently nearby safe-house.

The Hitmman's Bodyguard filming location: Blythe House, West Kensington, London
The Hitman's Bodyguard filming location: the safe-house in 'Coventry': Blythe House, West Kensington, London

This is still not ‘Coventry’, but Blythe House, 23 Blythe Road, West Kensington in London. Did you recognise it as 'The Circus' from Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? Or as the institution in which Dr Selvig is held in Thor: The Dark World? Or the clinic from which Lili (Eddie Redmayne) has to make an escape in The Danish Girl? Previously it had been the scene for one of the political meetings in 1982 Best Picture Oscar-winner, Warren Beatty’s epic Reds.

The aerial shot of the raid on the ‘Coventry’ safe-house clearly shows the arched roof of West London's Kensington Olympia exhibition hall.

Built in 1903 as the HQ for the Post Office Savings Bank, Blythe House is currently used, when not a film set, as storage space for South Kensington’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Realising that Interpol security has been compromised, Amelia has to look outside the loop for trusted backup. Who better than Bryce?

Reluctantly accepting, he turns up in ‘Coventry’, parking opposite Blythe House on West Kensington’s Hazlitt Road. Once inside the safe-house, he recognises Kincaid as someone with whom he has history but, as Dukhovsky’s goons arrive, the two are obliged to pair up.

The Hitmman's Bodyguard filming location: Weteringschans, Amsterdam
The Hitman's Bodyguard filming location: the 'Interpol Remand Center' in Amsterdam: Weteringschans, Amsterdam | Photograph: Google Maps

Over in Amsterdam the ‘Interpol Remand Center’, where Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek) is being held, is another bit of trickery.

It’s two separate buildings linked together digitally – the head office of a canal boat tour company and the University of Applied Sciences – on Weteringschans. The bars on the windows were added in post-production, too. They face the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’s famous art gallery, standing across the canal, which will feature later.

Bryce and Kincaid dump their car and steal another from the car park of the Black Horse pub, Windmill Road, Fulmer in Slough, Buckinghamshire.

When that car gets trashed, they find themselves hitching a ride in a van full of nuns (“Nuns of the Above” as it’s labelled), and as they head to the coast, there’s a brief glimpse of the White Cliffs of Dover, seen from Beachy Head near Eastbourne, East Sussex.

Their departure by ferry from the UK to the Netherlands is another cheat. They’re already in Amsterdam – the scene was filmed at Amsterdam’s Passenger Terminal, outside the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Concert Hall.

And, yes, it’s at the same passenger terminal, seen from a different angle alongside Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, that they arrive.

They have a safe-house but Kincaid can’t resist slipping away. Making his way through a small park, Bryce follows him, silently picking off potential assassins. The park isn’t Amsterdam. Kincaid is in Sofia, limping along ul. Moskovska from the Vasil Levski Monument to those gardens, which are on Vasil Levski Blvd in front of the city’s National Gallery.

The Hitmman's Bodyguard filming location: The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
The Hitman's Bodyguard filming location: Kincaid leaves flowers beneath the clock: The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam | Photograph: Shutterstock / Baloncici

He's on his way to place flowers on the clocktower opposite his wife’s cell. This is the Rijksmuseum on Museumstraat and, surprisingly, that’s the real interior of its clocktower, though not the floor below, where Bryce discovers one very important thing about Kincaid – this was shot back in the Sofia studios.

The Rijksmuseum is the national museum of the Netherlands, dedicated to Dutch arts and history. Its magnificent collection includes works by Rembrandt – including his huge masterpiece The Nightwatch – as well as by Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer.

The Hitmman's Bodyguard filming location: Jan Liujkenstraat, Amsterdam
The Hitman's Bodyguard filming location: Bryce misses the carnage at the outdoor bar: Jan Liujkenstraat, Amsterdam | Photograph: Google Maps

Bryce storms out of a side-entrance to the Rijksmuseum to drown his anger at a little outdoor bar where, unnoticed by him, a major shoot-out and utter mayhem explode on Jan Liujkenstraat.

Kincaid flees the carnage. The passing trams stunt, which allows him to escape, was filmed at the junction of Plantage Kerklaan and Plantage Muidergracht, in front of Amsterdam’s glossy Business School.

When Bryce twigs what’s happening, he roars off in pursuit along Museumstraat, the road which runs through the centre of the Rijksmuseum.

Kincaid, meanwhile, commandeers a boat. Forget the geography – the canal chase makes no sense at all but it’s a magnificent achievement, filmed without ‘copters or drones (not allowed in the city) using cameras mounted on cables. And it really is Jackson is in the boat for most of the shots.

Bryce bikes from Oude Zijds Achterburgwal along Barndesteeg, a narrow passageway in the Red Light District, to the market at Nieuwmarkt.

In his commandeered boat, Kincaid swerves right from Raamgracht into the main canal of Kloveniersburgwal, drenching a boatful of women enjoying a girls’ day out, and a minute later he’s heading along the same canal in the opposite direction.

The chase comes to an end only when Bryce sees off the threat of a grenade launcher on a bridge on Keizersgracht crossing over Reguliersgracht, only to be captured by Dukhovsky’s men.

By the way, if you’re visiting Amsterdam, this location is alongside the apartment of Tiffany Case (Jill St John) in 1971 Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever.

The Hitmman's Bodyguard filming location: Clerkenwell House of Detention, Sans Walk, London EC1
The Hitman's Bodyguard filming location: Bryce is tortured in the 'Amsterdam' dungeon: Clerkenwell House of Detention, Sans Walk, London EC1

The nightmarish sex dungeon in which Bryce is tortured is back in London. It’s the old Clerkenwell House of Detention, Sans Walk EC1. Built in 1847 to hold prisoners awaiting trial, it was demolished in 1890 to make way for a school but the vaults below remain.

Director Patrick Hughes, in his commentary, claims that the cells were used to accommodate convicts facing deportation to Australia. I can’t find any substantiation for this. Maybe someone was winding up the Aussie director.

The cellars are no longer open for tours but are used as a film location, seen in Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes, Sarah Gavron’s 2015 Suffragette, sequel St Trinian’s: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold as well as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

When Bryce is eventually rescued by Kincaid, the pair pop out into the streets of Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

The Hitmman's Bodyguard filming location: Business Park Sofia metro station, Sofia
The Hitman's Bodyguard filming location: Bryce escapes into the 'Hague' metro system: Business Park Sofia metro station, Sofia | Photograph: Wikimedia / Nikki070

Frantically driving to meet the Hague’s deadline, Kincaid tears through the central Park of Sofia and along the city’s famous artificial riverbed, while Bryce dodges assassins at the brand-new Business Park Sofia station on the Sofia Metro underground system.

The chase through the restaurant and beautifully choreographed fight in the hardware shop were filmed in the controllable confines of the Sofia studios.

Finally arriving at the ‘International Court of Justice’ (the Sofia bank building), Kincaid gives his evidence but there’s one last ditch attempt by Dukhovsky’s followers to spring him.

The Hitmman's Bodyguard filming location: Freemasons Hall, Covent Garden, London WC2
The Hitman's Bodyguard filming location: the corridors of the 'International Court of Justice, The Hague': Freemasons Hall, Covent Garden, London WC2

The lobby and corridors of the ‘Hague’, in which Elodie fights with the treacherous mole Jean Foucher (Joaquim de Almeida) and is finally reconciled with Bryce, are those of the magnificent art deco Freemasons Hall, 60 Great Queen Street in Covent Garden, London, WC2.

This is an adaptable and frequently used location, seen in films as diverse as Sherlock Holmes again, 2015 Bond movie Spectre, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, as a nightclub in Fast and Furious: Hobbs & Shaw and even as Saddam Hussein’s ‘Baghdad’ palace in Paul Greengrass’s 2010 Green Zone, with Matt Damon.

The vast rooftop where Kincaid finally gets to confront Dukhovsky is atop the Paradise Center, Blvd. "Cherni vrah" 100, 1407 Hladilnika, Sofia, a huge complex of stores, cinema, fitness center and event event venue which you'll find at the southern tip of South Park.