London and Morocco for le Carré’s Our Kind of Traitor
Espionage author John le Carré has inspired many TV dramas and features films, and this year his work is on-screen in TV drama The Night Manager and feature film Our Kind Of Traitor.
Susanna White directed Our Kind Of Traitor, which stars Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Damian Lewis (pictured), Naomie Harris and Jeremy Northam. As you’d expect with any John Le Carre adaptation, the action involves numerous interesting locations.
The film tells the story of an English couple who meet a Russian billionaire while on holiday in Marrakech. When the Russian tells them that he wants to defect to the West to protect his family, the couple are propelled into a dangerous game of cat and mouse involving the Russian mafia and Britain’s intelligence services.
The shoot began in the spring of 2014 by doubling a Finnish forest for the outskirts of Moscow, but much of the production’s main unit filming was based in London and the Home Counties. Locations in the capital included the banks of the Thames, Arsenal FC’s Emirates Stadium, the Dorchester Hotel, St Pancras Railway Station and Greenwich Park and a quiet back street that was used to double as Switzerland.
Filming shifted to Paris soon afterwards with McGregor (pictured below) and Harris, and location work reportedly involved historic landmarks including the Bastille. Production then shifted to Pralognan-la-Vanoise, a commune in the beautiful Rhone-Alpes region. This leg of the production generated some spectacular mountain and lake footage.
Production then moved to Marrakech in Morocco, which is a popular destination for film and TV productions having featured recently in TV productions including Tyrant and The Night Manager, as well as high-profile movies like Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. Key locations for Our Kind Of Traitor included Place Jemaa El Fna, a bustling square in Marrakech’s old quarter.
Principal photography lasted a swift 46 days and White’s key collaborators included BAFTA-winning production designer Sarah Greenwood (Atonement) and Oscar-winning DoP Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire). Costumes were by Julian Day (Rush) and hair-and-make up by Fae Hammond (BAFTA nominee for Pride and Prejudice).
Halo is credited for the film’s post-production while the script was written by Hossein Amini (credits include Drive and 47 Ronin). In terms of service/kit providers, companies credited include Pinewood-based Love High Speed for camera equipment.
Principal production company The Ink Factory is run by Simon Cornwell and Stephen Cornwell, the sons of John le Carré. They were also part of the team that brought The Night Manager to television, filming in London, Devon, Majorca and Zermatt in Switzerland, as well as Morocco, doubling for Egypt and Turkey.
The Ink Factory worked with Gail Egan of Potboiler on Our Kind Of Traitor. The two companies previously worked together on the movie adaptation of 2014 thriller A Most Wanted Man (pictured below).
The film is another le Carré adaptation starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as a beleaguered CIA operative struggling against forces larger than himself as a Chechen Muslim immigrant becomes a terror suspect in Hamburg. Filming took place in Germany using locations in Hamburg and Berlin. As a result it was able to secure funding from the FilmFörderung Hamburg Schleswig Holstein, Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg and the DFFF.
Iconic le Carré locations around the world
Decades after the BBC’s iconic 1979 TV adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson recruited a stellar cast (pictured right) to bring the story to the big screen in 2011. The production signaled a renaissance in interest in le Carré’s work. Location filming took place in Budapest and Istanbul, but London was central to the shoot.
One interesting location was Blythe House, a museum store used by the V&A, the British Museum and The Science Museum. In the film, it doubled as Cambridge Circus, the home of MI6 in the story.
Blythe House was built in 1898 as the headquarters of the Post Office Savings Bank. Its interiors are of a traditional Victorian public service building with tiled walls, iron railings and details on the main staircases and spiral staircase and it still has the original sash windows.
In 2005 Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles got an Oscar nomination for directing The Constant Gardener, a tale of Britain’s corrupting influence in Kenya. Location filming took place in Kenya for real, with one of the most visually stunning sequences being shot at Lake Turkana in the Kenyan Rift Valley. Lake Turkana is the world's largest permanent desert lake and also the biggest alkaline body of water on the planet.
John Boorman’s 2001 adaptation of The Tailor Of Panama tells the story of a Panama-based tailor who reluctantly becomes a spy for the British government. To its credit the film actually shot in Panama - something that didn’t especially faze Boorman.
Speaking at the time he said: “I've made four movies in the tropics, so Panama wasn't wholly unexpected. Charm, beauty, corruption, drug dealing - this was a potent and exotic mix.”
Over six weeks of shooting, Boorman was granted permission to film in some rarely seen places. Among these were the President's Palace, the home of the Canal Commissioner and the control centre of the Panama Canal - a location so sensitive only absolutely essential shooting crew were allowed in.
The Russia House was released in 1990 only a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall and tells the story of a scruffy British publisher recruited by the British security services to authenticate Russian military secrets. Starring Sean Connery, the film shot on location in Moscow and St Petersburg.
Our Kind of Traitor images: Jaap Buitendijk/StudioCanal
A Most Wanted Man image: Kerry Brown/Roadside Attractions
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy images: Focus Features