V For Vendetta
10 out of 10
Unmasking The Blair Government
With the nightly curfew already in effect, Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) is forced to rush through the streets to avoid arrest. It is the eve of 5th November 2020 and Britain is under neo-fascist rule. Despite her best efforts, she is, alas, waylaid by some undercover Police. It become quickly apparant that she faces being gang-raped when V, a man dressed in sixteenth century costume and mask, strides from the shadows. Never using a gun, only the innumerable knives of which he is so expert at throwing, V wipes them out in seconds Zorro-style, and having rescued her, takes her to a roof top to enjoy a special "performance" that he has organised. To the strains of Tchykovsky's 1812 overture, as the chimes of Big Ben ring out, his explosives blast the Old Bailey, England's central criminal court to smithereens.
Superhero movies with themed characters are ten-a-penny these days, yet this one is of a quality that truly sets it apart and packs a punch that reaches to your soul. V the hero is a terrorist, determined to topple the authoritarian Government whose concentration camp left him so disfigured that he must wear a mask. Brought to life from the comic book by the Wachowski Brothers script who had previously endowed the world with "The Matrix" trilogy, as you watch, you begin to realise that this oppressive world is not some robot-filled futuristic one like that of Neo. With Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam) as a fat and aggressive commentator on the news, backing the Government's latest lies, it is one that is hauntingly so little different from that of our own time and that it is hard not to feel sympathy for the beliefs for which V stands:-
People should not be afraid of their Governments,
Governments should be afraid of their People
This is no bozo supercriminal, but an eloqent man of honour, driven by an alturism that is, all too rare these days and, dressed as Guy Fawkes. And each time the loveable rogue assassinates another cog in the machinery of oppression, he leaves his calling card, a Scarlet Cason, a rose so rare it was belived to be extinct. As he evades the Police, Detective Finch (Stephen Rea, a stoic supporting actor of most British films) who becomes increasingly sceptical of his masters, led by Chancellor Stutler, an Orwelian "Big Brother". With John Hurt at his best, frothing his saliva over his wretched teeth, it is a clear irony in his casting as he played Smith in the original film 1984 as is having Stephen Fry as Evey's boss, Dietrich, at the TV station where she works. After broadcasting to an illicit and truly hilarious send-up of Stutler in the style of Benny Hill.and he confesses to Evey that he is a closet gay. In real life, Fry is himself a gay activist.
Having to save Evey Hammond for a second time, V takes her to the safety of his home which she discovers is filled with all the artifacts that have been outlawed including a bedroom almost walled in by books from floor to ceiling and is based on a real library in Iraq that was shut under the US occupation. Unable to leave as V fears that she would be tortured to reveal his location, Evey grows to know her masked swashbuckling saviour as he duals suits of armour to the strains of "Cry Me A River" on his personal jukebox from the 1950's. Challenging her beliefs with "Is that what you believe or what they want you to believe?", he helps her to grow as a person and a relationship develops between them reminiscent of "Beauty & The Beast" despite her being unable to touch him.
And 5th November? Guy Fawkes? Buy any graphics software in the world and there'll be an entiire section devoted to 4th July. Who does not know that it is American Independence Day. But try asking about November 5th or why the English children and families celebrate it with bonfires where effigees of Guy Fawkes are burnt, and be prepred to face blank stares. On that day in 1605, the Yeoman of the Guard, the seventeenth century equivalent of a SWAT team rushed to stop an attempt to blow up the King and all his ministers. Described by one wag as the only man to have entered the English parliament with honourable intentions, Guy Fawkes was caught redhanded in the basement with a huge stockpile of explosives. Catholics like Fawkes had suffered years of repression as a result of a few religious zealots and extremist leaders, happy to preach violence to further their religion.were regarded as the boogeymen, a scapegoat for all the ills of the nation. It's an all true parallel of the plight of today's Muslims. As V is the spirit of Fawkes reborn, so too is "V for Vendetta" a thinly veiled portrayal of today's Britain. Despite the comic book being inspired by fears for Britain's future in the 1980's, it has proven creepily prophetic in the case of Tony Blair. With reality mirroring the story, Blair's laws allow unlimited house arrest for suspects that are never charged and the Government that can interpret laws any way they wish and override judges. And as evidence of 9/11 being a put up job is piling up almost as high as the World Trade Towers, had Blair's "glorification" legislation passed, the producers, directors, writers and actors of "V for Vendetta" would have faced arrest and imprisonment in his latest attempt to control the press.
For Hugo Weaving, the film represents a unique opportunity to display his immense talent, and one he truly fulfills. After turning a minor supporting role as the Agent Smith in the Wachowski Brothers' Matrix trilogy into a cult baddie, they had clearly no doubt in casting the Zealander as V. At 6' 2", he towers imposingly over Portman and powers up this most charismatic of heroes to perfection despite being buried under the weight and heat of the outfit. Despite this, it was essential to encapture and enhance the image of a man whose face is always hidden and was designed by designed by "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"'s Sammy Sheldon to be a simplified and modern version of the traditional Guy Fawkes costume. To prevent the mask whose expression never changes from stiffling the characterization was clearly a major challenge for Art Director Stephan Gessler. Rather than a pre-pressed plastic one, Gessler had a sculptor handmake seven attempts one out of clay until they had precisely what was needed. Based on a combination of the traditional November 5th ones, a harlequin mask and the visage from the original comic book. From this a fibreglass one was produced that was then hand-painted.
Whilst this is the first movie under his direction,.he had served as an Assistant Diretor on the Matrix projects and the promotion the Wachowski Brothers have seen is one of which he has justly proven himself worthy. Whilst a slow-motion stunt is played out in a subway, McTeigue's originality, including a domino run and scenes with an apparant army of extras, never fails to keep out attention. It's a story that can be enjoyed on many levels and one that will haunt you.
Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett