When V for Vendetta first arrived in cinemas back in 2006, it seemed unlikely to trouble the box office. After all, it was based on a 1980s comic book by Alan Moore and David Lloyd that was practically unknown to non-comics fans, giving it very little brand recognition to trade on.
And yet director James McTeigue’s take on the material – which follows the efforts of Guy Fawkes-clad V (Hugo Weaving) and his protégé Evey (Natalie Portman) to topple a totalitarian UK government – nonetheless wound up being a huge critical and commercial success.
With Bonfire Night upon us, now seems like the perfect time to revisit the film, so here’s a list of five things you didn’t know about V for Vendetta!
5. THE MOVIE IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE COMIC BOOK
Anyone who has read the celebrated miniseries by Moore and Lloyd will find the big screen adaptation of V for Vendetta broadly recognisable. The key characters and themes (bar one, which we’ll get to later) are all present and accounted for in some form or other, and several of the film’s strongest sequences – most notably, the story of brave, doomed lesbian Valerie – have been adapted near-verbatim.
Even so, the movie is drastically different from the source material in a lot of ways. Some of the changes made by McTeigue and screenwriters the Wachowskis are understandable – when you condense a lengthy narrative to 132 minute runtime, you’re have to make a few tough decisions along the way!
So it is that several characters have had their personalities (and even sexual orientation!) altered, or have been amalgamated together, or even been excised from proceedings entirely. Perhaps the most dramatic shift is in the characterisation of V, who is transformed into a more overtly heroic figure, with only minor lip service paid to the ruthlessness of his myopic mission.
It’s not just the heroes who have been reworked, either; the baddies in the film version of V for Vendetta have also been retooled, in the process becoming far less three-dimensional. This serves to make the cinematic version of the story less sophisticated, as the depiction of the inhuman government as being comprised of decidedly human members gave readers one more thing to mull over.
Similarly, the plot has been streamlined considerably. This is most apparent in V’s plan, which was much more complex in the comic, involving the vigilante taking control of the government’s supercomputer/surveillance system – conspicuously absent in the film – explaining how he’s always one step ahead of his enemies.
But maybe the most disappointing revisions made by the filmmakers relate to the themes of V for Vendetta. This is an area where the big screen adaptation is far less nuanced and much more binary than its pen-and-ink counterpart, to its detriment. As Moore himself has pointed out, the movie completely omits the comics’ balanced central theme of anarchy versus fascism, replacing it with a one-sided, simplistic commentary about liberalism versus neo-conservatism.
In Moore’s story, whilst anarchy is clearly shown to be the superior philosophy, the benefits of a fascist state – particularly in a dystopian world in desperate need of order – are explored, and the merits of V’s agenda called into question, right up until the book’s haunting, ambiguous ending.
Not so in the movie, which – as part of shifting the timeline of the narrative forward in order to castigate the politics of the Bush-era administration – presents V’s attempts to topple the establishment as unequivocally good, and ends on an unabashedly uplifting note.
The end result of these thematic revisions is a film that, whilst undeniably entertaining, is far less thought-provoking and interesting than its inspiration.
In addition to trimming a lot of elements out of V for Vendetta, McTeigue and the Wachowskis also added more than few things in, too. The most prominent of these is an unnecessary romance between V and Evey, and some equally clumsy (not to mention on the nose) allusions to The Count of Monte Cristo, neither of which really work – so the less said about both, the better!
4. IT HAS STRONG PARALLELS WITH THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
If the comic book and film versions of V for Vendetta diverge in many ways, there’s at least one area in which both share something in common – their parallels with The Phantom Of The Opera, which several critics have noted.
If you think about it, it’s not much of a stretch to see links between both works, which each centre around a disfigured, cultured yet violent genius, who tutors his young, female apprentice in a shadowy, subterranean lair!
Admittedly, these are mostly superficial similarities, and the famously well-read Moore packed his original narrative full of other, more significant references and allusions to material as diverse as Orwell’s 1984 through to cult TV series The Prisoner!
Of these influences, the biggest tip of the hat by McTeigue is afforded to 1984 – in a fun twist, John Hurt, who starred as victimised everyman Winston Smith in the film adaptation of that novel here fills the shoes of the tyrannical Chancellor Sutler!
3. V WAS RE-CAST AFTER FILMING COMMENCED
A major aspect of the V character is his facelessness – as the living embodiment of an idea, he’s bigger than any one individual. This anonymity played into the hands of the filmmakers, when the actor originally cast to play V, James Purefoy, left the production six weeks after shooting began and needed to be replaced!
Purefoy apparently struggled with the limitations inherent to performing entirely behind either a mask or heavy prosthetics, and regular Wachowski collaborator Hugo Weaving was brought in to take over.
In fairness to Purefoy, Weaving also acknowledged the challenges involved when trying to emote as V without the use of any facial expressions. In the end, these obstacles were only overcome with considerable effort by Weaving and the crew, relying on varied intonation and carefully chosen body language, as well as clever lighting on the character’s mask.
Weaving wasn’t the only performer to bring V to life, however, as several stunt doubles handled the action scenes. This includes the flashback when V marches through the flames as he escapes captivity – which required stuntman Chad Stahelski to strip down to a g-string, lather himself in fire resistant gel and literally walk through fire!
2. 22,000 DOMINOES WERE USED (AMONG OTHER CRAZY STATISTICS)
In one memorable scene, V builds a massive domino display, which, once toppled, forms a red-and-black representation of his logo. While the scene only last a few moments, it turns out that professional domino assemblers (because apparently that’s a thing) needed 20,000 dominoes and 200 hours to assemble the piece!
Among the other outrageous factoids involved with the filming of V for Vendetta are the restrictions surrounding shooting near the UK Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in London. The crew was only permitted to film between midnight and 4:30am, and they weren’t allowed to halt traffic for longer than four minute intervals!
Speaking of the Houses of Parliament, obviously the filmmakers couldn’t blow up the real thing, so this landmark – along with the Old Bailey – was painstakingly recreated as practical, 1/10 scale models. These monstrous miniatures took a 20-strong team a total of 10 weeks to fabricate.
And finally, let’s take a quick moment for a shout out to V’s introductory speech to Evey. In keeping with the book and film’s recurring use of the letter V, our lead character uses it 55 times during his rather long-winded monologue.
It’s beyond absurd – comparing less than favourably to his concise greeting of “I do not have a name. You can call me V.” in the comics – and speaks more to the Wachowskis’ penchant for verbosity than Moore’s more restrained sensibilities!
1. THE STUNTMEN MOVED IN SLOW MOTION DURING THE FINAL SHOWDOWN
In the V for Vendetta comic book, it’s the conflicted Inspector Finch who tracks down and kills V, in a relatively brief encounter strongly suggested to be a case of suicide by proxy. For the film adaptation, McTeigue and the Wachowskis opted for a more traditional – if not Matrix-inspired – action set piece, that sees V wipe out a whole squad of heavily armed soldiers at lightning speed.
Wanting to convey the sense that V was moving much faster than his opponents, the filmmakers came up with a novel solution: they filmed David Leitch (Weaving’s fight double) moving at normal speed, whilst the stuntmen around him mimicked the effect of slow motion footage around him!
This – combined with recording at 60 frames per second, which makes the stuntmen’s choreography seem even more lethargic – gives the impression that V is superhumanly fast (and far more convincingly than McTeigue’s jarring stylistic choice to add bizarre, “bullet time”-esque light trails to V’s daggers)!