The 2015 film ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ is a big-screen homage to the TV series of the same name that ran from 1964-1968. A rollicking spy adventure set in cold-war Europe of 1963, it is not as over-the-top as a James Bond or a Kingsman movie, but certainly takes more freewheeling liberties compared to strict examples of the espionage genre. It is certainly not George Smiley and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
What it does have is luscious set and costume design. When the decade is the ’60s and the villains are Italian, beautiful machinery is not far behind. So buckle up and enjoy the ride with this unlikely duo of CIA and KGB spies, Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin. Their mission: thwart the sale of nuclear warheads being perpetrated by the Vinceguerra empire. Your mission: classic car spotting!
Cold War Icons
Any cold war movie worth its salt will involve an escape to the west. And surely enough, the film promptly begins with a duel between a Wartburg and a Trabant through dark, narrow alleys. Maximum destruction ensues, and reluctant heroine Gaby Teller is successfully taken over the wall.
The Decadent West
Wide Parisian boulevards, high fashion, and the unmistakable silhouette of a Citroen DS are a breath of fresh air as the characters hit pause and prepare for the next phase of their mission. For Gaby, that means swapping mechanic’s overalls for haute couture. For Solo and Ilya, not killing each other.
How to Gate-crash a Party
Reconnaissance of your targets is a must and the stage is set as Vinceguerra Shipping hosts a posh anniversary party at a racing circuit (scion Alexander fancies himself as a racing driver). Solo and Ilya soon find their points of entry and crash this party in style. Period Jaguars, Aston Martins, and Ferraris are all around, but disappointingly the ‘Formula’ racer seems to be replica of modern construction.
Film Trivia: The circuit scene was shot at the Goodwood Estate in West Surrey.
Rome After Dark
As spies tend to do their real business in the dark, expect things to heat up as the sun goes down. Sightseeing on a Vespa VBB 150 is merely a prelude. And when the hornet’s nest is stirred, our villainess Victoria hops in her Jaguar E-type to confirm her suspicions. Personally I would have taken the Ferrari 250GT and perhaps caught our spies in a lie.
It’s a Trap
The bad guys are winning this one. Gaby has some secrets herself and her apparent double-cross puts Solo and Ilya right where the Vinceguerras want them. The nukes are almost ready for sale, but never mind that – this evil empire has style. Another Jag (a chauffeured Mk9, of course), and if you are escaping to your island lair nothing but a Riva will do. Our boys just get a Citroen H Van, functional but sad!
The (British) Empire Strikes Back
The Brits have a strong spy game too and they had their hooks in this all along. When they decide to hit, they bring the toys and hit hard. The gear? How about the HMS Ark Royal and its complement of Hawker Sea Hawks, plus loads of SAS guys in black. And extraction duties by Westland Wessex, thank you.
Right, now time for tea and medals.
Getting Down and Dirty (And not quite period correct)
The island lair is going down in flames and the bad guys are dropping left and right. In the final chase it is two versus one: Solo in a rock crawler and Ilya in a Métisse Steve McQueen Desert Racer against Alexander in a Land Rover Series III. Sure the rock crawler and the Series III did not exist in 1963, but it is a gritty chase anyway. And yes, that rock crawler really did skip across the water on its own. No special effects needed when you have 500hp at your disposal (paddle tires were swapped in for the run though).
In the end, Victoria and the warheads are cornered and sunk. All I could think of is…who inherits all the cars?!
Watch: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Warner Brothers
Image credits: Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc
This article also appears on DRIVETRIBE: First Class Movie Motors