With Russia hosting this years FIFA World Cup there is a lot of focus on the nation which is famed for vodka, bears, mineral fuels, matryoshka (stacking dolls) and drugs! A fair few international productions have taken place in Russia with the vast majority of them including Moscow Airport scenes and Red Square footage. Countless TV productions of Leo Tolstoy classics like ‘War & Peace‘ and ‘Anna Karenina‘ have been set in Russia but this particular On Screen post will focus on how the country has been portrayed in film whether it be real, or faked somewhere cheaper and easier.
A whole host of action movies have been played out in the world’s biggest country and pretty much all of them have featured Russians as the baddies! That’s certainly been the case in James Bond films where there have been numerous Russian antagonists. Put Russia and James Bond together and most minds will probably think of ‘From Russia With Love‘ (1963) but that wasn’t actually filmed there. However, St Petersburg was very much at the forefront of Pierce Brosnan’s induction as the double agent began in ‘GoldenEye‘ (1995). The most famous scene was when he drove a tank through the streets of the city although most of it was actually filmed on a specially built set at the old Rolls Royce aircraft plant in Leavesden, Hertfordshire. St Petersburg Airport was actually a stand at Epsom Racecourse in Surrey (UK) and Somerset House at The Strand doubled up as a Square in Russia’s second biggest city.
Other London locations disguised as Russian locations included Brompton Cemetery as the exterior of a St Petersburg church whilst the interior was St Sofia’s Cathedral which funnily enough is on Moscow Road near Bayswater Station. The Langham Hilton at Portland Place was portrayed as Grand Hotel Europe, and Drapers’ Hall on Throgmorton Street was the council chamber.
Drapers Hall was also used as a Russian interior in ‘The Saint‘ (1997) as was the Rosewood London Hotel. Authentic locales included Moscow’s Red Square, the Peking Hotel, the Foreign Affairs Ministry building, the Aerostar Hotel and Leningrad Station.
‘The Saint‘ was of course based on the 1960’s British spy thriller TV series and similarly the Tom Cruise ‘Mission: Impossible‘ franchise spawned from an American TV series of the same era. The fourth instalment known as ‘Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol‘ (2011) starts off in Russia but don’t be fooled by the scene-setting footage as that was filmed by a second unit whilst Cruise and co were pretending that Prague was Moscow!
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a Soviet police officer chasing Russian criminals heading to the USA in ‘Red Heat‘ (1988) which is comically titled as ‘Red Bull‘ in Japan but in fairness the energy drinks giant hadn’t been up and running for so long at that time! Permission to shoot on Red Square was denied so they shot it guerrilla-style. Other Moscow scenes were shot in Budapest in Hungary.
It’s not only an awful title but ‘A Good Day To Die Hard‘ (2013) is a terrible movie too! Budapest filled in for the Russian capital again and Kiskunlacháza (northern part of Central Hungary) was also used for filming too.
Budapest and Prague aren’t the only European cities to have stood in for Moscow as Berlin did so too in ‘The Bourne Supremacy‘ (2004). The German capital used a car park beneath Messedamm as Moscow Airport, the aptly named Cafe Moskau on Karl Marx Allee was the Moscow disco where Yuri informs Kirill that Bourne’s still alive, and the Moscow street where Bourne arrives in search of Neski’s daughter was Scharrenstrasse. The bridge where Bourne was shot by Kirill next to the river is just round the corner from there. The car chase finale saw a mix of real Moscow and Berlin blended together with perhaps the most notable part being the final crash at the Potsdamer Platz exit of Tiergarten Tunnel.
In ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit‘ (2014), Merseyside and London were used for most of the Russian scenes. Sure, there are a few real scenes of Ryan on the streets of Moscow and in the back of a car being driven past St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin, but that was about it. Victoria House on Bloomsbury Square in London was Hotel Grushinski. Westminster Cathedral, Senate House and Exchange House were the other Moscow locations filmed in the nations capital with the latter being behind Liverpool Street Station. Liverpool itself featured heavily in the film’s latter scenes with the car chase taking place around the Strand and Water Street and finishing on Canada Boulevard beside the River Mersey.
‘Resident Evil: Retribution‘ (2012) was filmed for real in Moscow although the Russian subway station was actually an abandoned station in Toronto, Canada.
Of course one would expect an airport scene or two for a film titled ‘Air Force One‘ (1997) and this time it was LAX which portrayed Moscow Airport. A second unit got shots of Red Square which were mixed in with other scenes shot in Los Angeles.
When the writers of a TV show or film franchise run out of ideas they take the project overseas, and so in ‘Police Academy: Mission To Moscow‘ (1994), the seventh film in this franchise, the story is mainly set in Moscow. Needless to say, Red Square features as of course does Moscow Airport! This was one of the first American-produced comedy films to be allowed to film in Russia itself and the world famous Bolshoi Ballet was even involved in a scene. ‘Mission To Moscow’ really is bad but I guess it’s at least consistent with the other Police Academy films!
Two more movies from the 1990’s also set in Russia were ‘The Russian House‘ (1990) and ‘Onegin‘ (1999) but I have to admit that I haven’t seen either.
The aforementioned ‘Anna Karenina‘ has gone through about ten incarnations whether they be TV series’ or movies. There were only 15 years between the two most recent ones which came out in 1997 and 2012 respectively. The former starred Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean and was the first western production of it to be filmed in Russia where numerous palaces, streets and embankments in St Petersburg were used. Some minor scenes were also done in Moscow with the Novodevichy monastery being the most notable. The 2012 movie was mostly confined to Shepperton Studios in Surrey (UK) with a couple of other England-based locales and a smattering of actual Russian scenes.
This was by no means a definitive guide to films set in Russia as it is nigh on impossible to list them all here. This is just a selection of the one’s I’ve seen or know about but if you know of any others then please let me know in the comments or on twitter via @tokyofox
You can see previous On Screen articles by clicking on the links below: