A story that takes place in an alternate England of the 90s, filled with ideas about government and society, seems hardly best suited to a production team from America. The two countries, while sharing some similarities, have different political climates and very different cultures. It is quite an achievement then that the Wachowkis have made their version of V for Vendetta, as entertaining and thoughtful as it is.
V for Vendetta is set in a dystopian England of the future, now a totalitarian state ruled by a fascist party led by High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). A revolutionary terrorist wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and calling himself “V” (Hugo Weaving) conspires to bring down the government and free the people from tyrannical rule. He rescues Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), a young girl who becomes caught up in the revolutionary’s plans, while the police detective Eric Finch (Stephen Rea) tries to track both of them down.
The writer of the graphic novel, Alan Moore, has dissociated himself with all adaptations of his work since The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Having both seen that film and read the book, I can fully understand his decision. For the purposes of this review, I will look at the film on its own, as well as in relation to the source material that it is based on, as I feel to look at it alone would be a disservice to the graphic novel, regardless of the views of its author.
The film weaves a compelling web of political oppression and government cover-ups that never leaves you bored in its 132 minute runtime. V is portrayed more as a charismatic, liberal terrorist rather than a possibly insane anarchist, and his cause is justified at every turn, even as he slaughters numerous policemen and members of the corrupt party. The film comes down firmly on his side; he is the revolutionary hero who we are all cheering for by the end. The party members are shown to be less human too, becoming the standard villains of countless movies. The graphic novel is, to its credit, more ambiguous, showing anarchism against fascism and asking the reader to draw their own conclusions. As V, Hugo Weaving had to emote and express his character entirely behind a mask and his voice-work is impeccable. I really like his enunciation and theatrical delivery especially during his alliterative introduction. The rest of the roles are well cast, particularly the ones filled by Brits (Roger Allam is on fine form as the voice of Fate). I’m sorry Natalie, your acting is great and you look lovely even with a shaven head, but the accent needs a bit of work.
As is expected with an American vision of England, there are some shortcomings. Lots of characters conform to Hollywood ways of swearing-like-a-Brit, uttering “bloody” and “bollocks” quite a lot. I say you yanks, that is a jolly outdated view of the way we talk! Joking aside, dialogue is complex but riveting so you should be able to keep up with the plot. For me the style is odd and the setting doesn’t feel exactly like England; it’s a bit too clean-cut, quite dissimilar from the grimy tones of the graphic novel. Despite all this, the film is always entertaining, packing in ideas rarely seen in cinema along with some superb action sequences – I could watch V slice and dice his way through a host of soldiers in slo-mo anytime. Ultimately, the film is enjoyable in its own right, apart from its source. The rousing finale is truly cinematic, dramatically set to the 1812 Overture, bringing the ideas of revolution and the power of the people to an end that in the words of V, “only celluloid can deliver”.