V For Vendetta has plenty food for thought for us to remember, remember.

Dismissed at the time for going too far in its portrayal of an England fallen to fascist rule, a decade and a half later, where you might be tempted to argue it didn’t go far enough. Disowned by a critical Alan Moore (yes, I know, shocking) for abandoning the graphic novel’s hyper-polarised conflict between anarchists and fascists in favour of a more contemporary critique of the brewing culture wars of the increasingly ideological George W Bush-era United States, looking at it through today’s lens, it feels a lot more resonant and relevant to modern day Britain, part satirical hyperbole, part chilling extrapolation.

In 2028, England is ruled by High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt), the leader of the Norsefire party who seized power by imprisoning or executing political opponents, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, atheists, homosexuals, and other ‘undesirables’ having taken the opportunity to stoke the public’s fear during a viral pandemic which ravaged Europe and decimated the United States (which we’re told in passing collapsed into a second civil war). The only hope for a cowed and controlled population seems to be in the anarcho-terrorist V (Hugo Weaving), but to fulfil his plans he’ll need the help of Evey (Natalie Portman), a young employee of the state-run British Television Network.

Although it feels painfully on-the-nose for the COVID-19-beleaguered present day, one of “V For Vendetta”’s strengths is a deliberately vague setting. It could be five years ago, it could be twenty years from now. Although there’s enough to piece together when the film takes place (it’s popular right now to claim it as 2020 but it’s established as 2017-2018 in dialogue), its themes and execution retain a universal quality. It’s a blend of Orwellian and Huxleyan dystopias, with the emphasis on the former. It’s a quintessentially British take on the story of a battle for the nation’s soul and an elegant counterpoint to the corny Americana of “The Postman” which, ultimately, tells a similar story.

Pirouetting through this political performance art are a pair of perfect portrayals: Hugo Weaving (who never comes out from behind his mask) and clearly relishing they lyrical and archly alliterative dialogue crafted by The Wachowskis and Natalie Portman, delivering an astonishingly committed turn as not only the audience surrogate but the avatar for the fictional England as a whole as she journeys from shocked at V’s actions through fascinated to supportive and, finally, to action as she’s broken down and reforged into something stronger.

V For Vendetta Review - V and Evey

Stylish and stylised, sedition has never looked so sophisticated. Parlaying the techniques of “The Matrix” into this darker, low tech world of improvised explosive devices and joke shop masks twists the tropes of serial killers and superheroes and forges a genuinely sympathetic villain, with Hugo Weaving’s voice alone bringing a fully realised character to life.

The star-laden supporting cast also helps give “V For Vendetta” a real sense of gravitas, with the likes of Eddie Marsan, Sinéad Cusack, Stephen Fry, Ben Miles, Stephen Rea and Tim Pigott-Smith as Creedy – the loathsome head of the regime’s secret police ‘The Fingermen’ – filling out the supporting roles.

V For Vendetta Review Big Ben Explosion

Intelligently action-packed and often deeply moving, “V For Vendetta” is a political thriller masterpiece. Yes, it may be a little fantastical and, sadly, it’s perhaps a little too optimistic in its belief of what would rouse people complicity to stand up to and overthrow a cruelly despotic regime but it’s never less than thrillingly engaging and thought-provoking. In an age where we’re confronting the bleak certainty that a surprisingly large percentage of any given population will not only acquiesce to but enthusiastically embrace the most deplorable, corrupt and untruthful regimes without a second thought, we need characters like V more than ever.

V for Vendetta Review
Score 8/10
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1 Comment

  1. Drew November 24, 2020

    I absolutely love this film! Yes, it doesn’t follow the source material exactly but the changes they made were necessary to bring it into a different world than when it was written in the 1980s. And honestly, I think the changes made the story better. Great review!

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