v for vendetta

V for Vendetta (2006)

V for Vendetta is available to rent or buy now.

“Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”

London 2028 is a city where divisive and authoritarian leaders rule through fear, the ghosts of a pandemic haunt society, and public trust is placed in the hands of right-wing zealots; it’s a world that may feel eerily real considering global events since 2019, and one that acts as a warning to us all. James McTeigues’ adaptation of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s 2005 graphic novel V for Vendetta introduces us to a totalitarian state of oppression, censorship, and surveillance led by the Norsefire Party and its ruthless leader, Adam Sutler (John Hurt). Norsefire maintains its iron grip on the nation through fear, arrests and control. But waiting in the shadows is a mysterious, charming and violent figure known only as V (Hugo Weaving), who wears a Guy Fawkes mask as he plans to overthrow the regime and restore freedom to the people.

The iconic Fawkes mask V wears symbolises resistance and rebellion based on the man who attempted to blow up the British Parliament with eight fellow conspirators led by Robert Catesby in 1605. V uses Fawkes’ image as an emblem and flag for those who oppose the regime to gather around as he states, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

Meanwhile, Natalie Portman’s Evey Hammond’s activist parents died rotting in prison cells after rising up due to her brother’s death fourteen years earlier. Now, her own life hangs in the balance as a police officer holds her as a witness to the bombing of the Old Bailey. But is V about to save her from a similar destiny to her parents, and can she discover the man beneath the mask and his ultimate plan to take back London at any cost?

On its release in 2006, Peter Bradshaw proclaimed V for Vendetta to be “Valueless gibberish!” while Christopher Orr of The Atlantic said, “Whether or not one believes that governments manufacture crises and invent enemies in this way, there’s one group clearly guilty of the accusation: Hollywood filmmakers. What do movies do, after all, if not spin fiction intended to manipulate our emotions?”. Meanwhile, writer Alan Moore refused to have his name appear in the film or on any materials promoting it, and others baulked at McTeigues’ far softer interpretation of V. However, for others, V for Vendetta, despite its softer tone when compared to the graphic novel, spoke of a future that felt all too real, much like Orwell’s “1984”. Whatever your take on V for Vendetta, its bravery is to be commended; after all, this was a film about terrorism in a world still shaking following the horrific events of 9/11. But to attempt to attach modern interpretations to V for Vendetta was to ignore the historical roots of its story and the lessons these roots offer in shaping our future.

V for Vendetta is about the public acceptance of oppression and the political manipulation of individuals, communities and ideologies in achieving and holding on to power. It’s a timeless story of our human ability to ignore the suffering of others to maintain a thin veil of security. V could easily have been a French resistance leader, an Italian partisan or one of the countless German lawyers and activists who attempted to bring down Hitler.

But for all its bite, V for Vendetta misses two meaningful conversations central to Guy Fawkes’s story. Action and inaction are very often dictated by class, position and power. Those who hold power also hold the ability to manipulate those who do not and use them as an example. Fawkes was not the ring leader of the Gun Powder Plot, yet he was the one used as a warning to others considering similar; it’s possible that this was due to his lower social standing compared with his co-conspirators. Fawkes was also a complicated man whose motives were rooted in what we now call religious extremism, so would the new Catholic utopia Fawkes wanted have led to a better England? Based on this, we must ask whether V represents freedom or the start of a new and unknown political power built on one man’s ideology. In truth, it’s democracy that keeps the wolves from the door, and we should all be working hard to protect it from those who seek to diminish or alter its foundations in their own image. Human rights, equality, the right to vote and the ability to hold truth to power all sit at the heart of democracy, and the day we give those up because one person tells us they have all the answers is the day our society and freedom falls.

V for Vendetta offers us two distinctly different messages. One of these is rooted in the ability of us all to fight fascism and nationalism through a single spark. But the other is a warning that one person’s rebellion is another’s dynamite based on the power dynamics at play. Both are important in a world of increasing fear, ignorance and complacency, even if V never establishes clear answers.

Director: James McTeigue

Cast: Hugo WeavingNatalie PortmanRupert Graves, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith 

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