Culture, Travel & Sport

Is Zagreb the New Prague? (Or, Why Film Producers Shouldn’t Take Viewers for Fools)

Central and eastern Europe capital cities are clearly still all the same to some people.

When a Russian mafia boss, Vadim Kalyagin — one of the villains in the BBC’s latest global crime thriller — realises something is wrong with one of his businesses in the Czech Republic he immediately sets off to Prague and reluctantly takes his daughter Natasha with him.

It’s no wonder. Prague is one of the most visited cities in Europe. More than 6.5 million foreigners crossed theMcMafia  Charles Bridge in 2017 and Castle Hill, which rises above it, is one of central and eastern Europe’s most immediately recognisable landmarks, often shown in international film productions.

In the second episode of the series, when we first see the city in McMafia, Vadim’s nemesis, Semiyon Kleiman, who, by all appearances, is a legitimate businessman, travels to Prague to offer better terms to Vadim’s partners and put him out of business.

“Prague is the gateway to the Russian market,” we hear Semiyon say, and it is indeed true that Russians comprise the third largest immigrant community in the country. This is when we see the most recognisable part of the Czech capital — Hradčany, complete with Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral.

When Alex Godman, a young, second-generation Russian and the main character of the series, joins Mr Kleiman in Prague, what we see of the city is an unrecognisable industrial area. When both leave the city, they head to mezinárodní odlety (international departures) at the Czech capital’s airport. In the same episode, we also see Jan Reznik, who stole 5 million pounds from Semiyon and now works for Vadim, get out of his car with a Czech registration plate before he is killed.

Fast forward to the third episode. Vadim and Natasha arrive in Prague and take a horse-drawn carriage ride in the Old Town. Next day, while Vadim tries to unearth the reasons for the hold-ups in his previously smooth-running system in the Czech Republic, his daughter goes sightseeing and street shopping. All this happens in Prague. When Vadim is done with his brutal business, they reunite.

This is where I found myself at a loss and had to rewatch the entire scene. Vadim and Natasha lit a candle for her late mother in a chapel but they’re clearly no longer in Prague. In fact, they are in another city entirely. The chapel they visit is the Shrine of Our Lady of the Stone inside the Stone Gate, one of the most recognisable symbols of Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia.

Is the Czech capital short of chapels? Do they not allow film crews inside? Or did the producers think no one would notice?