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Saturday June 3rd 2023

X-Men: First Class | 2011

X-Men: First Class location: Englefield House
X-Men: First Class location: The schoolroom of ‘Xavier’s academy’: Englefield House | Photograph: wikimedia / Richard Croft

With Matthew Vaughn taking over the franchise, X-Men: First Class was based at Pinewood Studios in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire and most of the locations can be found in the UK.

This is where the Nazi concentration camp in ‘Poland’, where young Erik Lenssher first discovers his magnetic powers (and which was in Toronto, Ontario, for the first X-Men film) was recreated.

The ‘Westchester, New York’ home of young (and wealthy) Charles Xavier, later to become the ‘Xavier Academy’, is Englefield House, Theale, west of Reading in Berkshire. The gardens, though not the house itself, are open for visits.

Englefield has appeared in Disney's Cruella (with a little CGI as 'Hellman Hall'), Woody Allen’s Match Point, the 2008 Noël Coward adaptation Easy Virtue and, most famously, provided interiors for ‘Buckingham Palace’ in The King’s Speech.

X-Men: First Class location: Somerset House, The Strand, London
X-Men: First Class location: Sebastian Shaw goes to the ‘Swiss’ bank: Somerset House, The Strand, London

Fast forward to 1962, with Erik (Michael Fassbender) on the trail of his tormentor Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) in ‘Geneva, Switzerland’. The bank exterior is Somerset House, on the Strand in central London. The courtyard is an adaptable screen regular, probably best known for appearing as ‘St Petersburg’ in the 1995 Bond film GoldenEye, then as the ‘Ministry of Defence’ in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is meanwhile studying at Oxford University. Don’t go looking for ‘The Eagle’, the studenty pub where he drinks. It’s a fake frontage built alongside the photogenic ‘Bridge of Sighs’ on New College Lane, Oxford.

X-Men: First Class location: Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford
X-Men: First Class location: Xavier becomes a professor: Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

That’s the real exterior, though, of the Sheldonian Theatre, Broad Street, where Xavier becomes a professor, and is tailed by US agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne). Built between 1664 and 1669, the first major design of Sir Christopher Wren, the Sheldonian is also featured in the 1997 film of The Saint, with Val Kilmer, and – more surprisingly – stood in for ‘Harvard’ in Michael Cimino’s epic Western Heaven’s Gate.

X-Men: First Class film location: Cafe De Paris, Coventry Street, London W1
X-Men: First Class location: the 'Hellfire Club, Las Vegas': Cafe De Paris (now closed), Coventry Street, London W1 | Photograph © Cafe De Paris

The Las Vegas ‘Atomic’ casino, where  Moira MacTaggert gets her lead to the mutants, was built in the USA, but its ‘Hellfire Club’, in which the powerful elite disport themselves with scantily-clad girls, was the Café de Paris, Coventry Street, in London’s West End between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.

During the Blitz, when most of the West End closed down, the Café remained open on the assumption that it was bomb-proof. Tragically, this turned out not to be the case, and a direct hit killed 34 people.

Rebuilt, it continued to provide entertainment for the glitterati until it hit a slump in the Eighties, when it found fame as a movie backdrop, for Absolute Beginners, Scandal, The Krays; and the Café slummed it a little as the ‘Soho’ strip club where John Goodman relaxed in King Ralph. It bounced back as a glamorous nitespot in Lone Scherfig’s 2009 Oscar-nominated An Education, and became the Krays' 'Hide-A-Way' club in Legend. In 2020, following the Covid lockdown, it finally closed its doors for good. It had to be recreated in the studio for the Sixties scenes of Edgar Wright's Last Night In Soho.

Getting out of the UK for a while, ‘Villa Gesell’ in Argentina, where Lenssher follows the trail of Shaw, is the village of Villa La Angostura, Neuquén, surprisingly actually in Argentina.

X-Men: First Class location: West Wycombe House, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
X-Men: First Class location: the ‘Russian’ military retreat: West Wycombe House, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

It’s soon back to the UK for the ‘Russian’ military retreat, infiltrated by the X gang, where Emma Frost (January Jones) is interrogated, which is West Wycombe House, West Wycombe Park, a National Trust property near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, seen once before as a ‘Russian’ estate in Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers, and as Madam M's 'Russian' mansion in Fast And Furious: Hobbs & Shaw. Its interior can be seen in Disney's Cruella, and it becomes an ‘Irish’ estate is Clint Eastwood’s White Hunter, Black Heart.

Incidentally, the West Wycombe estate was the seat of the Dashwood family – and home of Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the real Hellfire Club.

X-Men: First Class filming location: Australia House, Strand, London WC2
X-Men: First Class location: The ‘Kremlin’ war room: Australia House, Strand, London WC2

The “Kremlin’s war room” was reproduced in the chandeliered grandeur of the Exhibition Hall of Australia House, in the Strand, London WC2, east of Charing Cross, which also supplied the interior of ‘Gringott’s Bank’ in Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone and the 'Selfridge' department store where Diana Prince gets a new outfit in Patty Jenkins's Wonder Woman (it’s not open to the public).

The ‘Cuban’ beach scenes were filmed by a small second-unit on Jekyll Island, at the southern tip of Georgia. Purchased in 1886 as an exclusive winter retreat for the country’s elite families, known as the Jekyll Island Club, the island resort was also used for battle scenes in Edward Zwick’s 1989 Glory, with Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick.