The Illusionist | 2006
Unfortunately released about the same time as Christopher Nolan’s similarly-themed and star-studded The Prestige, Neil Burger’s drama was somewhat overshadowed but has since found its own following. And it boasts a Philip Glass score.
Young Eisenheim (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) captures the attention of Sophie, (Eleanor Tomlinson) an aristocrat way above his humble station, with his sleight-of-hand-skills as he carefully walks through the street at Dlouhá 32, in the town of Český Krumlov, about 100 miles south of Prague.
He runs after the Duchesses carriage as it passes under the arch on Latrán 55, Český Krumlov, toward her chateau, which is the elaborate Český Krumlov Castle.
The unmissable Castle, with its elaborately colourful tower, houses the Ceský Krumlov Baroque Theatre, one of the most completely preserved Baroque theatres in the world.
There’s one train a day from Prague to Český Krumlov, which is also the location for Eli Roth’s 2005 gorefest, Hostel, (and one back, at 2pm), but there’s a regular bus service, which takes around three hours.
The films leaps fifteen years and the celebrated Eisenheim (Edward Norton) is now dazzling Viennese audiences with his astonishing illusions – including growing a fruiting orange tree from seed – at Divadlo na Vinohradech (Vinohrady Theatre), Náměstí Míru 1450/7, in the Vinohrady district east of Prague's New Town.
It turns out Eisenheim is staying at the theatre. The door to which messages are sent to him by the grown-up Sophie (Jessica Biel), now a Duchess and unfortunately promised to the arrogant Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), is alongside at Šubertova, with the Church of St Ludmilla looming in the background (you may recognise its twin spires as the ‘London’ church in the 2006 remake of The Omen).
The magnificent art nouveau ceramic wall tiling and the mosaic ceiling are original and date from 1914, which goes some way to explaining why past patrons have included writer Franz Kafka and composer Leoš Janáček.
The elaborate gates of Pražský hrad (Prague Castle) on Hradčanské náměstí across the River Vltava in Malá Strana (Lesser Town) stand in for the entrance to Prince Leopold's ‘Hofburg Palace’, but the interior where Eisenheim humiliates the Prince in front of his guests with the ‘immovable’ sword illusion, is the Mirror Hall of Chateau Dobříš in Kutná Hora, , about 40 miles east of Prague.
Prince Leopold’s more humble hunting lodge is Konopiště Castle, a 13th Century castle developed into a Baroque chateau in the 18th Century, about 30 miles southeast of Prague, outside the city of Benešov.
It’s famous as the last residence of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, an obsessive hunter, who shot around 15,000 animals in his lifetime, but himself ended up a target. It was the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo which triggered World War I. Along with all the animal trophies, the bullet that killed Franz Ferdinand, fired by Gavrilo Princip, is also an exhibit at the castle's museum.
The office of Police Chief Uhl (Paul Giamatti), who is charged by Leopold with bringing down Eisenheim, is the Economic Institute, Politických vězňů 936/7, near Jindřišská southeast of Old Town, which was also the police HQ in From Hell
Not far from here is Praha hlavní nádraží, Prague's main Railway Station on Wilsonova, to which Uhl follows Eisenheim who meets a mysterious stranger. The shots are of course carefully angled to exclude modern additions.
Uhl also follows the disguised Eisenheim to an assignation on Prvního pluku beneath the Negrelli Viaduct.
The small, rundown theatre which Eisenheim buys, and where he appears to conjure up spirits of the dead, is the Oskar Nedbal Theatre, Divadelni 218/2 in Tábor, a historic town about 50 miles south of Prague.