V FOR VENDETTA posits an England as far away from A Canterbury Tale as the current Benighted Spates Of Tweetshare is from the America I grew up in. Raving nationalist leadership, omnipresent surveillance, lapdog media and brutish repression figured in worried Brit-think from Things To Come and 1984 to A Clockwork Orange and Children Of Men, but apart from overall excellence, residual pertinence and cheek, the salient distinguishing aspect of this too-close-for-comfort, too-much-to-hope-for 2006 thriller is it boldly grasps a straw from history, bracingly takes a stand and says quite bloody clearly “FIGHT THE F—K BACK!”
“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
2027: the USA crippled by civil war, Europe swept by a pandemic and the U.K. ruled as a police state. Out past curfew one November 4th night, ‘Evey Hammond’ (Natalie Portman) is saved from an assault by secret police thugs. Calling himself ‘V’, her flamboyant rescuer (Hugo Weaving) disguises himself with a stylized face mask. He then shows her his timing and skills also include demolition, as he blows up London’s main criminal court to the strains of the “1812 Overture”. Infiltrating the state-mouthpiece TV network Evey works at, his mischief there has her aiding his escape. As a strange platonic relationship develops, V continues daring attacks on the corrupt leaders and headquarters of the society’s oppressor elite. Bastards sweat, the people stir. Let no more be revealed, except “Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot.” *
Vetted as an Assistant Director, this was James McTeigue’s first full-on director credit, and he handles it skillfully. The superb screenplay is by the The Wachowski Brothers. They adapted the literate, resistance-charged picture from an early 80s comic series and graphic novel written by legendary character Alan Moore (much displeased). **
The Moore material dealt with the mood of Thatcherite Britain. The Wachowskian update takes into account the amplification of freedom-crackdown since the advent of BushWorld’s War on Terror fraud released a new spawn of cretins and criminals upon us. The complaint about revolutionary purity when it comes to art or discourse tends to null into its own void when the balance sheet shows ‘true believers’ maybe get to arouse an audience that will fit in a living room, and a decent film adaptation can goose millions. Do you want to win, or just feel smug while you lose? Power to the projector!
Portman’s fine, earning her stripes in a year she finished her Star Wars duty. Weaving (heard behind the mask, never seen) is fabulous. He has a field day with the complex soliloquies, poetic allusions, wry asides, gentling assurances and avenging wrath of V: a challenging, tormented, heroic, wonderful character. John Hurt is consumed with rabid rightwing righteousness as the ‘High Chancellor’. Roger Allam scores playing TV propagandist ‘Lewis Prothero’, a wretched, blustering swine too-damn-familiar from the sewers of Fox News.
“Immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, terrorists. Disease-ridden degenerates. They had to go. Strength through unity. Unity through faith. I’m a God-fearing Englishman and I’m goddamn proud of it!”
With Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, Tim Piggott-Smith, Rupert Graves, John Standing (the corrupted clergy doesn’t get a pass, either), Eddie Marsan, Sinéad Cusack, Natasha Wightman and Imogen Poots. Oh, those 22,000 dominoes? They took four assemblers 200 hours to set up. The production cost came to $54,000,000, grosses came back with $132,500,000. Mask sales were brisk. 132 minutes.
* In November of 1605, 13 less-than-happy subjects of England’s King James I plotted to blow up the House of Lords and His Royal Personage during the November 5th opening of Parliament. One of them, Guy Fawkes, was apprehended the night before, sitting guard on 36 barrels of gunpowder. The others were killed or captured, those seized were duly executed, in gruesome fashion. Had Fawkes & friends boom-boxes gone off everyone within 330 feet would have died, and history would have taken a different (no doubt still bloody) course. The common use of the word ‘guy’ dates to the departed Mr. Fox.
** Affronted artiste or resolute grump, the eccentric Alan Moore was also miffed by the handling of his The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (that makes it unanimous—The Movie So Bad It Made Sean Connery retire), Watchmen and From Hell. The last was also directed by siblings, The Hughes Brothers, though the Wachowski bros of V for Vendetta have since trans-formed from Larry to Lana & Andy to Lilly. More power to them—they write well, their imaginations giving us The Matrix. Moore moped, but David Lloyd, the ‘guy’ who’d illustrated the comics, thought “It’s a terrific film. The most extraordinary thing about it for me was seeing scenes that I’d worked on and crafted for maximum effect in the book translated to film with the same degree of care and effect.”