I was also unfamiliar with both Guy Fawkes and Guy Fawkes Night (“Remember, remember the 5th of November / The gunpowder, treason, and plot”). I have unwittingly been calling males “guys” all my life without realizing the term’s origin.
Gradually, though, V for Vendetta grew on me. Despite its hokey noir trappings, and although the human story of its main characters is not very strong, it does score quite a few points regarding the current, post-9/11 political climate in the United States and the world in general.
Hugo Weaving stars (mostly) as “V,” the terrorist/hero with old scores to settle who wears a Guy Fawkes mask, patterns himself after Guy Fawkes, and maintains a stately secret residence filled with the dusty cultural artifacts of a more refined age.
Natalie Portman co-stars as Evey Hammond, the girl, and does a decent job of it. Stephen Rea is Chief Inspector Eric Finch, the seasoned gumshoe leading the V investigation, and Stephen Fry plays talk show host and closeted satirist Gordon Deitrich.
V has a painful past. Evey has one too, and the unlikely pair is brought together as the movie begins. There are flashbacks, violent action scenes, and revealing moments at home. Meanwhile, the authorities desperately pursue the marauder.
The story moves along well and improves as it goes. The performances are fair and the visuals are striking, but what really makes an impression is the oppressive political atmosphere.
Some unspecified calamity has essentially gutted the United States, and Britain is now under the rule of one-party fascism, specifically the madman totalitarian High Chancellor Adam Sutler, portrayed by John Hurt. The Britain of this near future is made to resemble a wildly exaggerated version of the present day U.S. Its TV news and newspapers are a nonstop barrage of terror and emergency. Its citizens are on constant alert and curfew, cowed into total submission to their leader. The smallest expression of liberty or freedom brings the danger of having government agents snatch you into a black bag. At first these parallels seem stilted, but gradually they amass a disturbing familiarity. I’m guessing this is the accomplishment of Larry and Andy Wachowski, who adapted the story from the original work of Alan Moore and David Lloyd, to the disappointment of Moore, who had a somewhat different vision.
At Netflix, where the rating system permits between 1 and 5 whole stars, I have rated V for Vendetta an ambivalent 3 stars. If I could, I would lean toward 3.5, but I can’t grant a 4. Although not one of the greats, the movie is worth a look, right through to the stunning sequence at the end.