V for Vendetta (2006)

Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt, Stephen Rea, Rupert Graves, Stephen Fry, Tim Piggot-Smith

Directed by: James McTeigue

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Hugo Weaving as the masked V in V for Vendetta

In the current climate, it seems pretty brave to release a film that posits explosive acts of terrorism as the solution to an oppressive regime. The current climate, with its smoke bans, anti-terror laws and ID cards, being. well, somewhat oppressive.

But if we think Blair's Labour government is bad, there are still (some) shocks in store for us should Chancellor Adam Sutler's Mosley-esque Conservative takeover really be on the cards. Playing ruthlessly on the fears of a population bowed into submission by unjust Middle Eastern wars, religious terrorism and outbreaks of deadly killer viruses, Sutler's Orwellian Party has established peace and stability - but at the price of our freedom.

V for Vendetta begins with a tannoyed message booming out across the streets of London: curfew is about to begin; anyone found on the streets will be arrested; this is for your own safety. Meanwhile, what appears to be the country's sole TV station blasts out messages of religious and homophobic hatred, while thuggish undercover 'fingermen' patrol the streets to catch anyone daft enough to go out after curfew.

Natalie Portman as Evey in V for Vendetta

Like, for example, our heroine, Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman, with a somewhat ropey English accent - clearly the lovely Keira KnightleyT was busy). Accosted by fingermen, she's saved from brutal treatment at their hands by a mysterious masked vigilante who calls himself V. Modelling himself on England's first celebrity terrorist, Guy Fawkes, this erudite, eloquent caped crusader has taken it upon himself to fight back.

Ten minutes later, he's blowing up the Old Bailey - no longer a symbol of justice in a country where dissidents are 'black bagged' for protesting against the government, disappearing into underground cells and never re-emerging. Evey, herself the daughter of political activists killed in Belmarsh (and doesn't that name ring horribly in your mind?), is implicated in the crime, and soon she finds herself confronted with a choice: to face up to her fears and fight alongside V or shrink back into the woodwork with the rest of her countrymen. By the end of this fascinating, intelligent film, it's not just Evey who must make the choice to act, but the entire population of England, as V's bravado stunts capture the imagination of the people and offer them new hope.

But is blowing stuff up really the solution? According to V, it is, because buildings are symbols of ideas, and by destroying ideas, we destroy the power behind them. Which presumably is what Al-Quaeda thought before they flew two aeroplanes into the side of the World Trade Center. Of course, if you dress your explosions up with fireworks and classical music and try to avoid killing any innocent bystanders, this does help your case, which is why you find yourself wholeheartedly embracing V's ruthless yet pragmatic philosophy, while all the time wondering if there isn't perhaps a better solution.

Dominic (Rupert Graves) and Finch (Stephen Rea) uncover dark truths in V for Vendetta

Two men who possibly represent a third way are Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) and Dominic (Rupert Graves - how lovely to see him on screen again), who are charged with tracking down V and Hammond. Although both are committed members of Sutler's white, middle aged, male power pack of a government, their faith in the Party is shaken by the shocking secrets they uncover while following V's trail (and their discoveries of human experimentation and deliberate virus contamination hang heavy as avian flu approaches our shores and six men lie in intensive care after a drug experiment goes awry). Like all their countrymen, Dominic and Finch too have a choice to take action or to turn a blind eye. And as the film approaches its dramatic and powerful revolutionary conclusion, we await the outcome with bated breath.

Gripping, chilling and absorbing, V for Vendetta is really quite a tour de force. Scripted by the Wachowski brothers, who of course brought us The Matrix trilogy, it's stylish and theatrical rather than supercool - this is England, after all, and the likes of Rupert Graves and Stephen Fry are never going to cut it in PVC. While the world of Orwell's 1984, with its dingy corridors and grotty, cabbage-smelling apartment blocks, was reminiscent of post-war Britain, so V for Vendetta's futuristic totalitarian state seems stuck with the depressing décor of the late '70s - although both boast the ever-present Big Brother TV screen, which watches us as we watch it.

Hugo Weaving practises his moves as V in V for Vendetta

And then we have our flamboyant hero V: part swashbuckling swordsman, part martial arts master, part Shakespearean philosopher, his creepy smiling mask becomes the anarchistic face of the revolution, following firmly in the theatrical tradition of British rebels and reactionaries from Robin Hood to Rob Roy. Acting without moving your face is never going to be easy, but Hugo Weaving does a great job at imbuing this slightly unnerving character with emotion and grace. Natalie Portman isn't overly convincing at the start of the film, but as Evey herself grows stronger and more determined, so too the actress grows into the role, and at times she's really quite excellent. John Hurt is on top form, spitting fire and brimstone as Adam Sutler, and Rea and Graves are reliable and convincing as the investigative duo Finch and Dominic. And all power to Stephen Fry, who may be playing himself (as usual) but who gives a damn fine performance as closet homosexual TV presenter Gordon Deitrich (even if you do keep expecting him to produce a box of Twinings tea).

They say evil prevails when good men (and, presumably, women) do nothing. By aligning Sutler with the likes of Hitler and Milosevic, V for Vendetta manages to get away with proving that sometimes, in desperate situations, what those good people need to do is stand up and fight. And if this involves acts of terrorism (and how else are underdogs supposed to fight back?) then so be it. Like the Britain of 1984, the totalitarian world of V for Vendetta doesn't really seem all that far fetched, and this film provides a timely reminder that it's up to us to make sure it never does become a reality.

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