"I never thought I'd feel so good about the [spoiler] blowing up..."
A fellow cinema-goer leaving the cinema behind me.
I rarely whoop in the cinema. I did about an hour ago.
read the news. I watch the news. I listen to the news.
I accept the news. Co-author of the superb graphic novel V For Vendetta David Lloyd, introduces
the work with the words "…it's for people who
don't switch off the news." The news is biased (I
get this). The news is distorted by the economic and political
needs and drives of those in power (I get this too). Control
over what is reported is, in this century, almost absolute.
The era of a Nixon-crushing Woodward and Bernstein, when
a free press was not an oxymoron, is over. As US comic
Jon Stewart, host of this year's Oscars confirms; "Capote of course addressed very similar themes to Good
Night and Good Luck. Both films are about
determined journalists defying obstacles in a relentless
pursuit of the truth. Needless to say both are period
pieces." That, my friends, absolutely terrifies me.
When controlling powers can spin out deceit and believe
it in their black hearts then we really are chained, imprisoned
with the delusion of a personal freedom. They dare to
mock us saying it's God's will - what gross irresponsibility
and cowardice our democracies have given birth to. England
is creeping to a dark place, lie by lie. America got there
quite a few years ago. Add to the mix a poisonous conceit
that makes our leaders think they are fulfilling their
destinies - as mapped out by God, the invention of an
animal that knows it's going to die - and you have powerfully
disturbed mindsets that will lead us all to an unimaginably
bleak and backward future. Hell, we are already there.
We are sowing the seeds of that future today through ignorance
and apathy and too few of us are in the field, plucking
those seeds from the earth and encouraging others to do
so. One of the best lines from V For Vendetta (and forgive the clumsy paraphrasing) is "Artists
lie to reveal the truth. Politicians lie to conceal it."
In short, V For Vendetta is a movie that
has timed its entrance to perfection and makes all knee
jerk liberals like myself cheer at its potent audacity.
This is a film about righteousness but it doesn't preach.
This is a film about that small part of everyone, the
part that recognises nobility and fairness. This is a
film about a nut-job in a Guy Fawkes mask who blows things
up, poisons and stabs people – so how come I like
the character so much? Because I think he's right? That's
scary. "Oh, it's all OK. It'll all be alright. Common
sense will prevail." No it won't. It never has and
never will. Not while ideologies clash violently and the
people who lead us have stone-age belief systems forcing
them on to a 21st century in what feels like globalised
rape. What will prevail is a society that feeds on the
exploitation of our basest instincts, our 'us and
them' mentality that leads us to see all Muslims as suicide
bombers, all Germans as spies for the enemy (time has
given us some distance from that) and all different colour-skinned
people as not good or inferior – "not us."
has based its policies for five whole years on the simple
expedient of keeping a nation in fear. No action, not
one, has been taken to understand the terrible cycle of
violence and work to make it stop. The only action Bush
and co. have taken has been exactly that which perpetuates
hatred and more violence. Any simpering idiot can understand
that. Why does it so effortlessly evade those we put into
power? Yeah, right. It's our fault now. Blair may not
be entirely comparable to Vendetta's Adam Sutler (to all
intents Hurt is playing a nascent Hitler or Mosely figure
– remove the 'am Su' from his name and you have
'Ad tler' – just add 'olf Hi' and you're there).
But he has certainly ushered in a political style of Christian
belligerence that is such a fertile breeding ground for
asymmetrical warfare, he almost convinces me that this
was his plan all along. How's this for a statistic. Blair
has gone to war, sent British troops to fight (onward
Christian soldiers) five times in six years. That is truly
a staggering statistic. Please get hold of John Kampfner's
superb book Blair's Wars. It will make your jaw
drop. The latest of Blair's wars that has rent Iraq asunder
(how's that for biblical, TB?) is raging as I write. There
is a moment in an episode of Joss Whedon's Firefly where the hero upon meeting the villain gives his opinion
on what should be done: "We run. Nothing worse than
a monster who thinks he's right with God." And that's
where my problem lays. What about a righteous monster
whose ideals make so much more sense to me? Enter V.
is not effective when it comes to pushing political
agendas. It's what I think killed one of the best American
films of the last thirty years, Philip Kaufman's ode
to astronautic courage The Right Stuff.
It was perceived as a huge endorsement for the real
astronaut John Glenn who ran for office the year the
movie was released. People don't go to movies to be
preached at. To quote Oscar host Jon Stewart again after
a montage of 'Issue Pictures' showing the world how
in touch with reality Hollywood is (oh please); "And
none of those problems were ever seen again…"
The corporate giants that make up what we perceive as
Hollywood will only take on a political movie if they
think there's a buck in it. Let's look at Vendetta's
movie DNA. Written by the Wachowski brothers (Matrix,
tick VG), directed by their protégé, ex-assistant
director James McTeigue (uh, OK. But we're sure Larry
and Andy will be keeping their eyes on him) and produced
by action specialist producer Joel Silver. OK, promising.
What staggered me is the faithfulness (it's still London
and V remains masked, remains a powerful idea, a metaphor).
And the fact we are seeing it distributed at all given
the parlous state of international relations and the
bombs that keep exploding all over the world is a small
the narrative, there's no American involvement at all
as long as you accept Portman's Landahn accent and the
fact that a team of gutsy Yanks ploughed money and love
into something overtly political. Why did co-author and
comic book messiah Alan Moore have his name removed? In
short it was his huge disappointment and frustration at
previous adaptations From Hell and The
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He felt
he had been burned twice and wasn't about to endorse a
third flaming. Moore states "They (his stories) were
written to be impossible to reproduce in terms of cinema,"
and that if movies were to be made "…try to
make them into better ones!" I would dearly love
to hear what Moore thinks of the finished V For
Vendetta because it captures the spirit of the
graphic novel if not its labyrinthine depth. The movie
is made of definable elements taken from the comic (is
'graphic novel' just a silly way to legitimize the evident
artistry?) and the ending is a little pat (but then movies
need endings that satisfy with a single incontrovertible
wallop). The ending's set piece is taken from the start
of the source material but no matter. I whooped with joy
as this set piece began. Again, a comic is not a movie
so I cannot complain about oranges not being apples. But
here I don't want to. I love these apples. When Hollywood
feeds upon a great work and gets it so gloriously right,
there's no better way to deliver an idea to the populace.
Agreed, it will change nothing but if one person watches
the news more cynically, that has to be a good thing.
Yes, V for Vendetta the graphic novel
is profound, politically naïve and savvy in equal
amounts. It's an extraordinary work that both Alan Moore
and David Lloyd should feel proud to have wrought. But
there is no way such storytelling is going to survive
a Hollywood machine – but its ideas can mutate and
idea' is central to the movie version of V for
Vendetta. The so called 'terrorist' 'V' is an
idea. We never see behind the mask because it is unimportant.
What is important is the idea of a catalyst that brings
people to their senses. V is Howard Beale (of Network fame). He's the stiff faced caricature who uses violence
and destruction to say "I'm as mad as hell and I'm
not going to take it anymore…" The superb volte-face
example of this is John Hurt ranting to a population who
are NOT in front of their TVs. They are out on the streets
making a difference while their leader reassures with
promises of brute force enforcement. "For Your Protection",
what's the tale? Set a little way into the future, we
are in London, a rapidly spiralling right wing Orwellian
society. There are curfews at night. The state owned TV
company is a puppet of its masters and the 'enemy' have
blighted England with three terrorist acts of violence,
incidents of chemical warfare that have kept England in
the desperate dark of ignorance and fear. OK, not so far
away then. Breaking curfew one evening, a young girl,
Evey, is stopped by militia who are about to rape her
all night. She is saved by a caped vigilante with a Guy
Fawkes mask who has some expertise with knives. He invites
her to hear an orchestra from the rooftops, an invitation
that culminates in the destruction of the Old Bailey.
After making an impassioned broadcast to the nation, V
is saved by Evey and so begins a complex but hugely gratifying
relationship between a man who wants to do the right thing
by specific and violent means and a victim, who, under
V's tutelage, will become whole. V gives the powers that
be one year before he will emerge again to affect change…
Hurt is suitably Big Brotheresque (a nice little irony
given he played Winston Smith in 1984 in the 80s) and his face is only ever seen, save for one
important scene which I will not reveal, on a huge monitor
that deliberately frames his cabinet as small men whose
heads Hurt could bite off in a second. The nastiest of
these, the power hungry, reptilian Creedy, is finely played
by Tim Piggot-Smith. The man leading us through V's machinations
is the detective Finch, played by Stephen Rea with a light
touch. He manages to portray an aching inevitability as
information gleaned carefully turns his mind to regard
V as a necessary evil. Rea is the moral everyman in the
story. After all, we can sympathise with V's arguments
but we can't really associate with him. Portman does a
good job as Evey (there's a little room for making me
completely accept her transformation from someone in fear
all the time to someone who loses all fear). Our favourite
computer code/Head Elf plays V. Although it's Hugo Weaving's
remarkable voice that's only obviously the actor, we are
assured that he was under the mask the entire time. He
does a terrific job. It's also good to see Stephen Fry
as a TV personality who dares to mock the leadership in
revelation on his show. Knowing Fry is a fan of McGoohan's
seminal series adds a piquancy to the scene. But something
happened watching this movie and more than once. And God,
how refreshing it was.
was moved. I was genuinely carried by the conviction of
the storytelling and touched by the plight of the characters.
There are a few personal strikes that would not play to
anyone else. The first screenplay I ever wrote was about
a boy's relationship with an intricate Guy Fawkes guy
he made. Fawkes speaks to him, ventriloquist's dummy-like
through his guy. The character has always fascinated me.
For US audiences, there's a neat little opening featuring
Guido himself and his attempts at blowing up Parliament.
Note for historical accuracy. Guido Fawkes was racked
so badly he could barely stand to be hanged. I have also
written a novel (unpublished, quelle surprise) in which
a character blows up Big Ben… Resonances.
short (as SFX magazine said so eloquently) "…comic
fans leave your inner purist at the door." V
For Vendetta will make you think, scratch that
itch of political motivation and give you two solid hours
of good old fashioned great story-telling. Oh, and if
successful across the pond, V should let loose into the
American language one of my favourite words. There is
something so correct about the word's construction, its
plosive delivery and the withering aspect of its meaning.
A young girl sits at her TV. She watches the news. She
listens to the news. She does not accept the news.
the glass teat spews lies to her, she says: