Eastern Promises | 2007
Taking possession of the diary of a young girl who died in childbirth, midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) finds herself involved with a very nasty branch of the Russian mafia, Vory v Zakone.
This dark thriller is filmed all over London, but this is David Cronenberg, so don't expect touristy views of the London Eye or Portobello Road Market. The production was based at Three Mills Studios, Three Mill Lane, Bromley-by-Bow in East London. A large studio complex (or media village, if you like), which opened in the Nineties, it’s already hosted filming for Never Let Me Go, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy as well as Fantastic Mr Fox and Creep.
The film starts as it means to go on, with a bloody murder. ‘Azim’s Hair Salon’, where Soyka gets a shave to make Sweeney Todd proud, is Broadway Gents Hairstylist, 54 Broadway Market in Hackney, E8 (tube: Bethnal Green).
The old Broadway Market has been trading on this site since the 1890s, and has been seen on screen in 1947 IRA thriller Odd Man Out and in Buster, the 1988 biopic of Great Train Robber, ‘Buster’ Edwards.
It's away across the capital in northwest London, to Serena Pharmacy, 7 Library Parade on Craven Park Road, Harlesden NW10, the chemist shop in which the heavily pregnant Tatiana asks for help before collapsing.
Tatiana dies, but not before giving birth to a daughter. It’s in the fictitious ‘Trafalgar Hospital’ that Anna takes care of the baby and determines to find out about the mother from her diary.
Although the Whittington Hospital on upmarket Highgate Hill has been substantially rebuilt, on the east side of Dartmouth Park Avenue stand the remaining Victorian buildings which became the exterior of ‘Trafalgar Hospital’. It’s here that Anna’s bike is fixed by the mysterious tattooed Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). In fact, Naomi Watts researched her role as the midwife in the hospital's maternity unit.
Finding a business card in the diary, Anna visits the ‘Trans Siberian’ restaurant of the avuncular Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Although the restaurant was built in the Three Mills Studios, its exterior is the Farmiloe Building, 28-36 St John Street, in trendy Clerkenwell.
The Farmiloe is a screen regular – though usually the interior is seen. It houses ‘Gotham City Police Station’, out of which Sergeant Gordon (Gary Oldman) operates in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Christopher Nolan returned to the the ever-adaptable Farmiloe for Inception’s ‘Mombasa’ pharmacy and, more recently, Gary Oldman was back here as George Smiley for the 2011 film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It's more recently cropped up in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and and Krays biopic Legend, with Tom Hardy.
The restaurant’s kitchen is an unfamiliar view of another familiar location. The film uses the kitchens of the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London SE10. It’s the pillared exterior, or the spectacular Painted Hall which are more usually seen in films, including The Madness Of King George, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Quills, The Avengers, Michael Winner’s 1983 remake of The Wicked Lady and The Golden Compass.
There's a great maritime tradition on this stretch of the Thames, and on the river alongside Greenwich stands Deptford, once famous as the home of King Henry VIII’s Royal Naval Dockyard.
It’s in Deptford that Nikolai and Kirill (Vincent Cassel) dispose of the thawed-out body of Soyka, dumping it into the river on Payne’s Wharf, at the northern end of Watergate Street.
Back north of the river, to Kilburn, not far from Harlesden, where a house at 74 Christchurch Avenue, NW6, became the brothel – only for the film, I have to add – at which gangster’s son Kirill dubiously insists on watching driver Nikolai have sex with one of the girls to prove he’s not ‘queer’.
Pakeman House, on the south side of Surrey Row SE1, Southwark, is the block of flats outside which Nikolai waits for Uncle Stepan (Jerzy Skolimowski) to return home, after he disturbingly promises to deal with him. Skolimowski, by the way, is the Polish-born director of Deep End, The Shout and Moonlighting.
Further southeast in Bermondsey, the Wimpy, 251A Southwark Park Road, SE16, is the burger place where Anna hands over the incriminating diary to Nikolai. Just to the south, 48A Monnow Road, SE1, is the house where Anna lives with Stepan and her aunt, Helen (Sinéad Cusack).
Bloody revenge is graphically exacted on Soyka’s killer among the blue-and-white scarved Chelsea football fans swarming through Brompton Cemetery, Old Brompton Road, in Earl’s Court, SW5. Usually chosen for its Victorian Gothic atmosphere (remember Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) rising from the vault here in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes?) the cemetery stands in the shadow of Stamford Bridge – home of Chelsea FC – usually scrupulously avoided onscreen. There's a coincidental Russian connection – the Brompton Cemetery’s chapel was used as the ‘St Petersburg’ church in 1995 Bond movie GoldenEye and crops up again in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and in Guy Ritchie's 2019 The Gentlemen.
The Turkish Bath, to which Nikolai is unwittingly lured to be whacked, is the Ironmonger Row Baths, 1-11 Ironmonger Row, EC1, near to Old Street tube. Built in 1931 as a public wash-house, it"s now a Grade II-listed building, currently undergoing renovation in time for the Olympic Games.
The interior, where Nikolai bloodily fights off two assassins, was to have been filmed in the famous Porchester Hall Baths in Bayswater (seen in Quadrophenia), but steam turns out not to be good for expensive movie cameras, and the baths were eventually recreated in the studio.