Secret Cinema Operation WILDCARD

Written by

It’s been nearly four years since Secret Cinema: Casino Royale. Enough time has elapsed now that we can now talk about it openly, right?

Miles Winterburn

The mission: Secret Cinema Casino Royale, London, July 2019

Operation WILDCARD: Declassified

It’s been nearly four years since Secret Cinema: Casino Royale. Enough time has elapsed now that we can now talk about it openly, right?

Disclaimer: I will start by saying that this account is taken purely from memory. I’ve done my best to string all of the events together, and hopefully it gives the reader a good idea of what the experience was like.

I’d heard of the London based immersive experience called Secret Cinema, but never really taken anything other than a passing interest in their previous shows. I live in the East Midlands, so I’d have to be making a special effort to go to London for something like this. However, when Casino Royale was announced, I immediately knew that the time had come to make the extra effort. All I really knew about Secret Cinema was that it usually consisted of two parts. Firstly, some form of immersive theatre style experience, where you could engage with characters from or related to the film. This was then followed by some type of a special screening of sed film.

Once you’d signed up and booked, Secret Cinema drip fed you information for what was known as Operation WILDCARD. You were tasked with going to their website which encouraged you to “Tell no one” about your mission. I hope that I can be excused for doing so now, because many years have passed, and I didn’t actually sign the Official Secrets Act.

The website had been created to look like a computer interface from the Daniel Craig era of James Bond. By answering a series of questions, you were allocated an alias and specific colour as a signature theme for your clothing. My alias was Jacob Beach, Tech Entrepreneur. You were then encouraged to create a solid backstory of your own to use on the night, and to keep you undercover. As the mission brief had suggested, I went to the trouble of getting my own business cards printed. More about how they came into play shortly…

I also ordered the accessory kit from the website. This contained pieces to potentially use while there. Our theme colour was red, so I had a matching gun barrel pin badge and pocket square. There was also an SIS business card, a Casino Royale money clip, playing cards and a poker chip.

My wife wore a beautiful black dress with a red rose corsage, just to make sure that she also had a touch of red in her outfit. The information also told us that our contact upon arrival would have a bunch of red roses.

The location is always kept top secret until just before the event opens, so it’s difficult to plan where to stay in London, because you’ve no idea where you’ll need to get to. We’d booked into a hotel near Paddington Station in the west of the city, but nearer the time it had been revealed that the location of the event would be at Dagenham, way out east of London and about an hours’ worth of rail travel away. London was going through a heatwave while we were there, so being dressed in a tux on a rush hour tube train for an hour wasn’t ideal, as we ventured out of central London to Dagenham East station. As we left the station, people were pointing in us in the necessary direction as we walked the few minutes towards a huge warehouse style building. The majority of the people had made an effort to get dressed up, with many suited and booted, or in some form of costume.

We had our tickets scanned and were searched before starting to queue, thereafter to be let in in waves. While still outside there was one last awesome photo opportunity before we had our phones put in secure pouches so we couldn’t use them while inside.

We then found our contact outside, who had a bunch of red roses, and our briefing began. We were now in character while she briefed a group of us on what to do and where to go when we go in. This was all based on the mission and colour we’d previously been allocated. Then it was time to go inside and start our experience.

We went up a set of stairs and into a dark room with a small stage. A glamorous woman took to the mic and welcomed us to Casino Royale!

As part of the introduction, she asked that any of us had business cards, because there was a chance to win a couple of stacks of poker chips for the casino. I put mine into the hat along with half a dozen or so others. The woman then proceeded to draw out the names. I was unlucky, but not as unlucky as one guy. As he went up on the stage and was asked his name, someone called out from the audience and a man appeared and shot him died right in front of us! There was a minor panic as we were quickly ushered out and into the main area. That had been an exciting start and got our heart rates elevated!

Coming out of the room and to the top of a flight of stairs you really started to get the scale of what you were about to enter. Below and behind us was clearly the Madagascar area and as you got to bottom of the stairs was Miami Airport. This was only the tip of the iceberg though. It was like being on a movie set, and the attention to detail was incredible. I started to spot characters from the film just going about their business, until a storyline called for them to step in. I immediately knew that this was going to be something very special.

As all decent agents should do first, we went straight to the nearest bar and ordered a cocktail. We then had a quick explore around the two areas we could immediately see. As we walked down by the luggage conveyor belts towards what we expected to be the next area, we were approached by glamorous woman. She introduced herself and I kept in character as I gave her one of my business cards.

“Ah!” she said. “Mr. Beach. Yes, I’m aware of your company.” Would you like to meet someone who has an interesting business proposition?” “But of course,” I replied, and she said, “Follow me. We will meet him in Venice.” So we walked through an alley, passed what looked like an illegal gambling den, and found ourselves in a Ventian piazza. We had clearly passed the first test.

The enigmatic woman asked us to wait at a table while she went off and offered a few more people to join us. After a few minutes a small group had formed and our contact arrived and introduced himself. We all did the same, and he engaged us in conversation for a few minutes before asking if we’d like to go and meet the actual person who has a job for us. Everyone agreed, be it a little cautiously.

So the group (around 10 of us) were led in a dark alleyway behind the piazza where we were introduced to Gettler, the man with the glasses with one black lens from the final act of the film. This where we were recruited to work for his organisation (basically Spectre). He explained that they were about to blackmail Vesper Lynd of the British Government by threatening her boyfriend’s life unless she did exactly what they asked. He tasked us with going to the bar in Miami airport, wait for the phone on the bar to ring and make sure that Vesper took the call. Then we were to follow her back to Venice, where we would stop her from leaving until she agreed to cooperate.

We all headed through to the Miami airport area and into the bar, breaking character between us to discuss what was going on and how exciting it was. Vesper was in conversation with someone in the bar, but our mission was clear. When the phone rang on the bar I picked it up, a man asked for her, and I went over and politely interrupted their conversation. “Ms. Lynd?” I said, “there’s a telephone call for you.”

Vesper took the call and was clear distressed by what she was being told. Her boyfriend’s life was in jeopardy, and she would have to follow their instructions to save him. She put the phone down slowly, paused to compose herself and then walk out of the airport bar. I noticed Felix Leiter observing all of this from the corner of the room, but that wasn’t part of our mission and we needed to follow her without getting caught. I led the way, pausing when she did and hanging back just enough for us not to be too obvious. We felt like real spies as we returned to the back streets of Venice and to the introduction of another major character.

Vesper made contact with Gettler as requested and he was quite threatening. Then Mr. White arrived. A tall man in a cream coloured suit, he was genuinely quite imposing. Vesper was instructed to do everything he said and we (the group) would make sure that she carried out her instructions. With Mr. White content that she would do what she’d been asked to do and that we’d help enforce it, he bid us farewell. With Gettler and Mr. White sloping off in different directions, Vesper turned to us and we wondered what she was going to say.

Then the game changer occurred: she asked us all to join her as double agents to bring Gettler, White and others to justice. The group embraced this idea, and once Vesper was sure that we were on board with the plans, she said “follow me.” She led the group down corridor and around a corner to a door that I’d not seen before. At the door was a security guard. She introduced herself and told the man that we were all with her and had urgent information to relay. The guard opened the door and suddenly we were in Mi6. We passed by Q’s workshop with an Aston Martin DB10 in the middle of it. I suppose the car was a little out of place, seeing that it was from the latest film at that time, 2015’s Spectre. However, it was still cool to get close to it, and as we were to see later, the other cars were going to turn up elsewhere.

Vesper escorted us upstairs to another new area where there were various terminals and screens with agents watching screens and speaking to people out in the field. Then we went through to more of a briefing room area where M was already talking to a group similar to us. We paused there for a couple of minutes and listened to M’s briefing while Vesper left us to make arrangements for our next challenge.

M explained the ongoing mission across multiple countries, where Mi6 agents were trying to pin down the location of a dangerous metal case currently in the hands of an enemy agent. However, the main issue was that there was more than only real case in play, the others being potentially booby-trapped and very dangerous. She told us that we had to make contact with and the support Mi6 agents out in the field to try and locate the real one. Before we could hear anymore Vesper pulled us away.

Vesper introduced us to a serious looking woman who took control of the party and led us through into a new room, while she left us there to return to wider world downstairs. The group was now in an interrogation room and we were all lined up against a wall.

Those outside would be able to observe us though a large two way mirror on the wall. The interrogator asked who had information that might help Her Majesty’s government. One guy went first, but didn’t really take it seriously, which sort of broke the illusion a little, then I stepped up. She grilled me pretty hard and I revealed who we’d met and what had been said, but I also made a decision not to reveal everything just yet, hoping that might help us on our journey. In hindsight, it didn’t, but unbeknown to us, we were running out of time anyway. She tasked the two of us (everyone else had been asked to leave the room), with hunting down a specific Mi6 agent and gave us a description. Then we left Mi6 and went our separate ways.

Upon being released from Mi6 I met back up with my wife and we decided to try and explore the areas that we had not had a chance to, before trying to do anything else related to the storyline that we were in. I’m glad that we did this, because through what we saw, it made us realise what a spider’s web the storylines there were taking place across the whole experience, as we saw scenes being played out, groups tailing people and conversation taking place between actors and the public ad hoc all over the place. It was a well-oiled machine, that apparently took months of rehearsal to get it refined. However, the one place that seemed to be eluding us at this stage was the casino itself. I knew that if you ended up following a certain path that you could end up in a card game with Le Chiffre, but we’d seen very little of him so far.

I think we’d been in the thick of it for the best part of two hours now, and realised that time was rapidly running out before the film would start. We’d hardly stopped, apart from a quick trip to the bar for a refill, so we decided to grab a quick bite to eat and a drink in the relatively tranquil ambience of Venice. We sat at a table and got talking to a couple who, to our surprise, hadn’t done anything while they were there. They’d had a wander around the areas (that they had access to) and just sat and had a drink. Our evenings could not have been any different.

Suddenly a fight broke out between the man we’d spoken to earlier in the evening in Venice, who appeared to have one of the cases, and what appeared to be an Mi6 agent. This felt very real and was incredibly well staged. Just when it looked like the Mi6 agent was going to lose, one of the female agents stepped in and shot the guy with the case.

The agents then needed to open the case, because we knew that one of them contained a bomb. Everyone in the area was told to get down while they carefully placed the case on a table in the middle of the piazza just near us and slowly went about opening it. It was genuinely tense, and everyone got swept up in the moment. Fortunately for us, this turned out to be one of the of the decoys, but we were all then ushered away from Venice in case there was another device. There was clearly a coming together of the storylines now, as everyone finally approached what must be the casino.

A choreographed finale must have taken place in the area outside of the casino area at the same time, meaning that everyone was swiftly ushered through to a large room with huge curtains either side. Here, there was a bit of a show going on and there was on a raised platform on which a game of poker was still underway. The large crowd circled the table and suddenly it all kicked off.

A fight broke out, guns were fired and we heard the deafening sound of a helicopter approaching. Then a ladder dropped down and an escape was in progress. It did not end well for some involved, let’s just say that. Everything went black and then the curtains were raised. To our left was the seating for the screening of the film, and on our right was the screen. Everyone rushed to get a decent seat as we prepared for the next stage of the evening’s adventure.

When it comes to the film Casino Royale, it’s my favourite of the Daniel Craig era and usually at the top of the pile when I occasionally rank all of the cinematic entries. So, it’s fair to say that in the 13 years since the film had been released I’d probably seen it once a year, so there’s not much new for me to take from it.

However, the official promo photo above gives you an idea how special the showing was. The image contains the moment from the film where Bond blows up the embassy in Madagascar. The characters and actors who’d been out in the individual areas of the event so far came together to deliver their own immersive silent performances throughout the film. With both the classic Aston Martin DB5 and the newer DBS making an appearance, there were explosions, stunts, wirework, water, and every possible element that could enhance the viewing of the film. To be honest, I spent the majority of the time just watching them do their thing, because I know the film inside out. At some points the performers were quite passive and at other times totally frenetic. The 2 hours and 24 minutes rattled by as we were treated to what I can only describe as next level entertainment!

And then it was all over. We spilled out in July evening air, got our phone pouches unlocked and I took the opportunity to grab a photo of the actual Aston Martin DBS that they rolled during the making of the film.

Then it was time head back to Dagenham East station and journey into central London. We stood on the platform and it’s fair to say that both of us were on Cloud Nine. We had excitedly talked about various elements of the evening and were basking in the afterglow of what had been one of the most incredible nights we’d both had in an exceptionally long time. I would even go as far as to say it felt like one of those rare times when you come out of a particularly amazing concert: a feeling of 00-euphoria.

The brain back into London filled with people felt the same way. Everyone had clearly had an exciting time, whatever the level of their Bond fandom.

The fact that nearly four years on, I can still remember so much about that night speaks volumes. I’m sure that I’ll have missed a handful of details out, but it doesn’t detract from what I can still remember and will do for the rest of life. I’ve wanted to write down my experience ever since I went, but never got around to it. The opportunity to write an article for the club seemed to finally give me the push to get this down into words. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my journey through the world of 007 on the 3rd of July 2019. I also hope inspires others to look back on their immersive experience at Secret Cinema Casino Royale, and potentially share a totally different version of events.

Last modified: 3 January 2024