From Scotland to Shanghai, the Real British Locations Behind “Skyfall”

Yahoo! Contributor
Visit Britain

You've seen "Skyfall," right? And you may have wondered a few times, "Where was that scene filmed?" Some of the movie's most memorable scenes were shot in locations around Britain, in sometimes surprising places. If you have seen the movie, beware: Plot points are discussed below.

In "Skyfall," James Bond (Daniel Craig) returns to MI6, the British national intelligence agency, after an extended absence. The imposing, jagged, somewhat pyramid-shaped building you see in the Bond movies is the real-life home of the British Secret Intelligence Service. Its official name is Vauxhall Cross, although its design has earned it the nickname "Legoland" among members of the intelligence community.

In "Skyfall," an explosion blows a big hole in the building, which may remind you of a similar incident in another Bond film, 1999's "The World Is Not Enough." Although the filmmakers have permission to shoot some exterior shots of the building, they don't get to damage it: They use a scale model or special effects. They did have to close down nearby Vauxhall Bridge to film the scene, though. For understandable reasons, the SIS headquarters are not open for public tours.

After the unfortunate incident at MI6, the agency moves into a "secret" underground location. Some of the scenes set there, including many of Bond's training and testing scenes, were filmed in the Old Vic Tunnels under Waterloo Station. This labyrinth of vacant railway tunnels under London is used for a variety of things, including arts events, film screenings and parties. The space is affiliated with The Old Vic, one of London's most beloved performing arts venues.

The production used the real-life Parliament Square — between the Parliament buildings and Westminster Abbey — for scenes where Bond is chasing the film's villain, Silva, after Silva's attack on a government hearing. Some of those chase scenes were also filmed in actual London Underground stations. Bond's favorite London rooftop lookout is from the top of the Department of Energy and Climate Change building at Whitehall Place. And if you're wondering about the gallery room where Bond meets his new Q, it's in the National Portrait Gallery.

Some of the most revealing moments of "Skyfall," including its wild climax, happen at Bond's childhood home in Scotland. Well, at least it's supposed to be Scotland. Some of the shots of Bond heading for the hills with his boss M were indeed filmed in Scotland, most notably at Glencoe, a place with its own blood-soaked history. Home of some of Britain's highest peaks, this Highlands region of steep hills and quiet valleys was once also the territory of feuding Scottish clans. Fortunately, the battles are long past, and now the glen — much of it protected by the National Trust for Scotland — is considered one of Britain's recreation capitals.

But the broad valley where Bond's historic home was purpose-built for the movie is not located in Scotland at all. In fact, it's not far from London. Although it looks like the windswept moors of northern England, it's actually Hankley Common in Surrey. This broad, open stretch of land is owned by the British Ministry of Defence, which uses it for training exercises (during World War II, it was used to practice D-Day landings). The common is also an important wildlife area, the last remaining heathland — a large open area of low-growing shrubs and grasses — of its size in southern England.

Given that it's easily accessible from London and yet looks far from anything, Hankley Common has acted as a film location for both movies and TV (including many "Doctor Who" episodes). The Surrey Life website tracked "Skyfall" filming in the spring of 2012.

Although "Skyfall," like all Bond movies, takes place in locations all over the world, you might be surprised at which parts of England stood in for some of those exotic locales.

Those super-sleek buildings in Shanghai where Bond starts his Asian mission? Those aren't anywhere near Shanghai; they're part of the Broadgate complex in the quaintly named Primrose Street area of London. At this time of year, the public can ice-skate at a rink right near where Bond encounters an assassin in the movie.

by Christy Karras

Top: Some of the scenes in "Skyfall," such as Bond's drive to Scotland in his 1964 Aston Martin. (Photo courtesy Sony Pictures)

Upper right: The MI6 headquarters in "Skyfall" are the offices of Britain's real-life Secret Intelligence Service. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)

Left: Bond drives through this Glencoe valley on his way to his ancestral home. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)

Lower right: The Broadgate complex in central London stood in for sleek Shanghai buildings. (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

What to Read Next