LONDON — David Cronenberg’s London-set Russian mobster thriller “Eastern Promises” opened the Times BFI London Film Festival Wednesday night at London’s Odeon, Leicester Square theater.

The 51st edition of the fest was introduced to attendees by British Film Institute director Amanda Nevill, BFI chair Anthony Minghella and the fest’s artistic director Sandra Hebron before Cronenberg took to the stage to introduce the “Promises” cast, including Vincent Cassel and Naomi Watts.

“The truth is the reason you might not recognize London in this film is that it was shot in Prague,” Cronenberg joked.

Pic, penned by Brit scribe Steve Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things”), used unusual London locations, including the Victorian Finsbury Park Turkish bathhouse. The bloody scene at the baths, where a naked Viggo Mortensen is brutally attacked by rival gangsters wielding knives, drew a round of applause.

Another scene sees a low-level criminal murdered in a churchyard in the crowds leaving an Arsenal versus Chelsea soccer match.

Minghella used his platform to salute the British government’s decision to safeguard the BFI’s national and regional film archives, via a $50 million handout announced earlier in the day.

Screening and packed after-party in nearby Covent Garden was attended by the great and the good of the U.K. film industry, including directors Stephen Frears, Michael Winterbottom, Stephen Woolley, Terry Gilliam and Alan Parker, thesps Martin Freeman and Colin Firth, and industryites Robert Mitchell, Ian George, Cameron McCracken, Stewart Till, Paul Trijbits, Christian Grass, Josh Berger, John Woodward and politico James Purnell, the recently installed secretary of state for culture, media and sport. Other guests included Elle McPherson.

The non-competitive fest, which runs across the city until Nov. 1, hosts a string of high-profile galas, including the world premiere of United Artists “Lions for Lambs” on Oct. 22. Tom Cruise, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep are due to walk the red carpet.