Tower-ing Fiction #2: CNS Building, Spectre (2015)

by Shawn Gilmore

The CNS (Centre for National Security) is the symbolic conunterpoint to MI6 and the 00 program in 2015′s James Bond film Spectre (dir. Sam Mendes). It appears early in the film sitting directly across the Thames from the real home of MI6, the SIS Building at Vauxhall Cross (perhaps a later entry for Tower-ing Fiction), which had been spectacualrly attacked in the previous Bond film, Skyfall (also dir. Sam Mendes, 2012).

The CNS Building is introduced after the opening set-pieces, described by Tanner (Rory Kinnear) to Bond (Daniel Craig), noting that “All the money’s been spent on this–the new center for national security,” while the old SIS Building is a “poor old girl, rigged for demolition in a week…cheaper to knock her down than rebuild,” with which is it continually juxtaposed:

Spectre (2015), CNS Building.

Spectre (2015), post-explosion SIS Building.

The geography here is explicit and reinforced by arial shots with the CNS Building digitally inserted next to Vauxhall Bridge

Spectre (2015), CNS Building, with Vauxhall Bridge.

Spectre (2015), CNS Building, with Vauxhall Bridge.

So that viewers can place it in relation to the SIS Building, Parliament, etc.


During a boat tour between the buildings–establishing river exits needed for the climax of the film–Bond and Tanner are visually placed with the old, damaged SIS Building:

Spectre (2015), Bond and Tanner on the Thames, with the SIS Building in background.

While new character C (Andrew Scott) is aligned with CNS, as he attempts to bypass M (Ralph Fiennes) and the old guard. C’s attempt to take over the intelligence services, merging MI5 and MI6 is the background plot throughout the film, as he attempts to “bring British intelligence out of the dark ages and in to the light,” staged as a verbal confrontation between he and M as they climb the CNS stairs

Spectre (2015), CNS Building inner stairs.

Spectre (2015), CNS Building inner stairs.

Which are in reality the London City Hall stairs:

London City Hall, central stairs.

Setting the scene and establishing the visual conflict of the film: M trailing C

Spectre (2015), CNS Building, top of stair, C’s office.

C aligned with new construction

Spectre (2015), CNS Building, view from C’s office.

Spectre (2015), CNS Building, opposite view from C’s office.

The CNS Building is set to go online as part of Nine Eyes, a cabal of nine world powers’ intelligence services, making the building itself “the most sofisticated data-gathering system in history. But ominously, C notes that “the government couldn’t afford this kind of facility. No, it was benefactors mostly, from the private sector…”

This of course sets the terms of the climax, during which it is revealed that Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) was the primary funder and has a secret backdoor to the Nine Eyes project. This leads to a layered conclusion to the film, with Bond (who never steps into the CNS Building) lured in the about-to-be-demolished SIS Building across the river, which M, Tanner, and company attempt to stop C at CNS and Blofeld hovers in a helicopter between.

Bond is thus part of the destruction of the old, viewing CNS multiple times as he climbs the relic that is SIS:

Spectre (2015), Bond at the base of the about-to-be-demolished SIS Building.

Spectre (2015), CNS Building, seen through a ruined window of the SIS Building.

Spectre (2015), Bond looking across to the CNS Building, Blofeld in a helicopter between.

Where M and C fight to the death:

Spectre (2015), M & C’s fight at the CNS Building.

Spectre (2015), C, having fallen to his death, at the base of the CNS Building’s central stairs.

Until the SIS Building is destroyed, with Bond escaping via the river and M and others watching from across the Thames:

Spectre (2015), SIS Building demolition.

Spectre (2015), SIS Building demolition.

Spectre (2015), SIS Building demolition.

See also: