Alan Moore's graphic novel about a masked avenger hellbent on destroying a British totalitarian state of the future is searingly brought to the big screen. Hugo Weaving plays V, the masked revolutionary who embarks on a flamboyantly violent campaign to foment revolt.
Movie rating: 4 star rating. ( Good )
Rated by TV Times.
Stars: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Stephen Fry
Director: James McTeigue
Running time: 132 mins
Images of archetypal British terrorists have tended to be grainy photos of penny-collared Irishmen with Cuban heels or mugshots of Islamic fundamentalist teaching assistants from Yorkshire.
They have not, it has to be said, quite captured the style of a cloaked explosives expert, knife-thrower and lofty intellectual with a taste for alliteration. In a grinning Guy Fawkes mask.
V is all these things… and more. Taking his inspiration from the 17th century November 5th gunpowder plotter, he too intends to bring down the government.
Not for its anti-Catholicism, but for the grim reign of terror masquarading as a benign dictatorship and orchestrated by shouty Chancellor Shutler (Hurt).
As soon as V launches his campaign, totalling the Old Bailey and rubbing out the Voice of London, a raving TV host who disturbingly resembles the Daily Mail's right-wing ranter-in-chief Peter Hitchens – he's a marked man.
Leading the hunt is the lugubrious Chief Inspector Finch (Rea), a by-the-numbers plod who is, nevertheless, no lackey of the bullying Norsefire Party.
On V's side is the young orphan Evey (Portman), whose parents were victims of the regime, and who harbours grave doubts about V's own particular brand of "ends-justify-the-means" rebellion. V For Vendetta
Big studio films from Hollywood don't get much braver than this, a mainstream movie that addresses the moral conundrum that one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist.
The setting of the story in a readily recognisable Britain adds an icy frisson made all the chillier in the knowledge that writer Alan Moore was railing against Margaret Thatcher's brand of ultra-conservatism.
Pertinent questions are also raised about a corrupting nanny state that uses fear – of avian flu, of extremist groups – to exert an unyielding grip on a cowed population.
It's a surprising turn for The Matrix's Wachowski Brothers, who adapt Moore's graphic novel, and show just what they're capable of when handed literate, intelligent source material.
Weaving invests V with an unexpected wealth of emotion bearing in mind he's behind a mask for the whole film and Portman – despite a wobbly accent – is impressive as the young rebel-in-waiting.
Stephen Fry reins in his customary arch-fluffiness to deliver a compelling turn as a gay TV executive who thinks he can mock the regime… only to find out he can't.
It's a world away from the traditionally simplistic Hollywood take on a dystopian future, acknowledging there are no easy answers and decisions need to be taken that could result in suffering.
As V might say, it's vicious, valiant, vital, victorious… and very, very good.