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Wednesday July 17th 2024

Spy | 2015

Spy filming location: Gundel Restaurant, Budapest
Spy location: Fine presents Susan with a lovely cake necklace: Gundel Restaurant, Budapest | Photograph: Gundel Restaurant

A James Bond spoof is probably not the most original of ideas, and the lazily functional title doesn’t bode well, but the Paul Feig-Melissa McCarthy-Rose Byrne team delivers the requisite amount of fun. And there’s a sterling supporting cast.

The film’s big idea is to kill off the tuxedoed agent early on and, with the identities of remaining operatives compromised, backroom spook Susan Cooper (McCarthy) gets the opportunity to put her expertise into action in the field.

The action ranges from ‘DC’ to ‘Paris’ and ‘Rome’ but, apart from a couple of scene-setting shots, was filmed in Budapest, Hungary, which finally gets to appear as itself in the final third of the film.

The ‘Bulgarian’ villa on the ‘Black Sea’, where agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) ducks out of the fancy cocktail party to snoop around the basement, is on the north shore of Lake Balaton.

Its cellar, where he accidentally shoots the only person who knows the whereabouts of a rogue nuclear weapon, is a labyrinth of limestone caves that stretches some 23 miles underneath the Dreher Brewery in Buda. Originally excavated as quarries in the 1700s, the caves were repurposed to store beer – though at various times they have been used as emergency shelters and even hidden hangars for Nazi aircraft.

With the aid of Susan Cooper, his controller back in ‘Langley’, Fine makes his getaway by speedboat, across Lake Balaton.

The ‘CIA Communications Room’ and other interiors were built at Budapest’s Fot and Origo studios.
After the mission, when Fine takes Cooper for dinner and presents her with a delightful cake necklace, the swanky restaurant is supposed to be in ‘Washington DC’, though European gourmands may recognize its classic interior as Budapest’s legendary restaurant Gundel, 1146 Budapest, Gundel Károly street 4.

Opened by Károly Gundel in 1910, the business refined and reinvented traditional Hungarian cuisine has amazingly survived war and Soviet communism to remain the country’s leading restaurant.

After witnessing Fine’s demise at the hands of enemy agent Rayna (Rose Byrne), Susan volunteers to take over the mission in Paris, though she’s irked to be expected to take on the less-than-glamorous guise of a Delaware housewife.

As Susan arrives in the French capital, there are brief shots of the prestigious Prince des Galles and George V Hotels as well as, of course, the Eiffel Tower, but Budapest soon takes over.

The elegant galleria in which Susan witnesses the bag switch that puts over-enthusiastic agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) in danger, is the beautiful Paris Court shopping arcade at Ferenciek Square – which might be familiar to fans of the genre from another (just slightly more serious) secret-agent movie, 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

The al fresco performance by drag artist Verka Serduchka and her band (playing their international hit tune Dancing Lasha Tumbai, since you ask) is on the large stage at the north end of the eye-catching, glass-covered Budapest shopping mall known as ‘The Whale’ named because of its shape and its location alongside the River Danube (and not the Seine) into which the bomb is thrown. The Whale, by the way, stands in for 'NASA' in Ridley Scott's The Martian.

Spy filming location: Express Building, Liberty Square, Budapest
Spy location: Susan chases the agent into the dilapidated building: Express Building, Liberty Square, Budapest | Photograph: wikimedia / Szojak

Susan follows the enemy (and apparently well-endowed) agent into a wonderfully dilapidated old structure known as the Express Building, the old HQ of the Adria Shipping Company, with its striking elliptical stairway, on the northwest corner of Liberty Square at Vecsey utca.

Clues now point to Rome, where Susan adopts another identity as cat lady, and is met at the airport by the lustful Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz).

Spy filming location: Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest
Spy location: the glitzy 'Casino Di Roma’: Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest | Photograph: wikimedia / Lóránd Péter

Of course, this is still Budapest. The glitzy ‘Casino di Roma’, where Susan finally dumps the frumpy housewife look to glam up a little, is actually the Hungarian State Opera House, Andrássy út 22, a few blocks east of the Express Building.

With her cover blown, Susan finds herself being flown off to – yes! – Budapest, where she manages to pass herself off as Amber Valentine, a bodyguard assigned to protect Rayna, the focus of her investigations.

They stay in luxury at the Four Season’s Gresham Palace, Széchenyi István tér 5-6, regarded as one of Europe’s most elegant hotels.

Standing on the Buda side of the Danube, overlooking the Chain Bridge and Castle Hill, the grand 1906 Art Nouveau hotel was severely damaged during WWII, standing empty and dilapidated for decades. As you can see, it’s since been beautifully restored and reopened in 2004 (and is currently offering a ‘Spy In Budapest’ package).

Outside the hotel, Susan jumps on a moped and gives chase to a would-be assassin through the streets of Budapest. Sadly, the scooter-with-a-roof fails embarrassingly on Zrínyi Street, with St Stephen’s Basilica in the background.

Now really getting into the swing of things, Susan buys herself an expensive frock at Byblos, Deak Ferenc utca 17, 1052, Budapest’s upscale Fashion Street.

She’s off to a 50 Cent appearance at ‘Club Nomad’. The elaborate dance club, where Nancy Artingstall (Miranda Hart) creates a diversion by bringing down the rapper with a rugby tackle, is the Ethnographic Museum, Kossuth Lajos tér 12.

Far from being a funky nightclub, the Museum is one of Europe's largest, most important museums, housing a vast repository of Hungarian culture.

It stands across from the Hungarian Parliament building, on Kossuth tér, a prominent focal point of Hungarian cultural life and a convenient meeting point for tourists.

Taken captive, Susan and Aldo find themselves held in the striking art deco control room of the 1930s Kelenföld Power Plant with its elliptical glass ceiling and mysterious rows of panels and dials.

Spy filming location: Tihany, Lake Balaton, Hungary
Spy location: De Luca's villa: Tihany, Lake Balaton, Hungary | Photograph: Gundel Restaurant

The estate of De Luca (Bobby Cannavale), where the sale of the nuclear weapon is due to go ahead, is back on the shore of Lake Balaton.

This 19th century villa stands at Furdotelepi ut 1 in the village of Tihany, on a promontory on the north shore of Lake Balaton. Until recently a hotel, it’s now a private home.