Re-watching V FOR VENDETTA to get in the mood for Government Detonation Day. My, the dialogue is worse than I remember it. I haven’t seen a London as unconvincing as this since LIFEFORCE, which the movie somehow resembles. An odd thing — while Americans say the word “bollocks” quite charmingly, with just a hint of becoming self-consciousness, and British actors generally say it quite effectively, when American writers put “bollocks” into British mouths, it doesn’t come out right.
So for the first hour I was kind of wondering why I’d given this film kind of a pass at the time. True, its heart is in the right place, more or less — it’s still probably the most gay-friendly blockbuster, big movies generally lagging far behind comic books and the rest of the culture when it comes to these issues. And there are good shots, a few decent action scenes and montages. But that weird fake London thing comes back to haunt it — we get used to Hugo Weaving’s mask after one scene, but never get used to Natalie Portman’s accent. And the filmmakers (James McTeague and the Wachowskis) compound the awkwardness by casting Stephen Rea as the other major British character. He does OK, but a whole level of unease could have been stripped away by casting a Brit.
Alan Moore objected to the changes made to his comic (“All I’m saying is, just give me the deal you were happy to give [Superman creators] Siegel and Schuster for decades: don’t mention my name and don’t pay me any money”) but I think tying the film’s fascists into the real-world neo-cons was a brave and admirable move — had the film proved a hit, we could be enjoying more political blockbusters. The bigger betrayal was cutting all the talk of anarchy. The other biggest change is trading an atomic war backstory, which barely worked in the eighties original, for a biological terrorist attack — this is OK in itself, but leads to a lot of time being spent on the 9/11 truther conspiracy plot (which never made sense to me — the human experiments preceded the rise of fascism?), exposited through wooden verbiage and wedging out more piquant material, like the mean, DR PHIBES details of V’s vendetta — in the comic he kills a pedophile priest with a poisoned communion wafer, thus disproving the miracle of transubstantiation. And does the Wachowskis’ love of kink lead them to make slightly too much of Natalie P in her little girl costume? Possibly.
The rhythms of the film are also odd — to deal with the overwritten dialogue, the actors all underplay and talk fast, both of which are approaches I like but in particular the fast talking sits oddly with the standard action movie portentousness, It’s like the pompous self-importance doesn’t have room to breathe. Arguably a good thing, but it doesn’t quite play.
But it gets better — first with Sinead Cusack’s cameo — bring on the great actors and things generally get better — again the dialogue is sometimes unsayable but she sells it. And then in my favourite chapter from the comic, the Valerie sequence, the most faithfully adapted part of the movie, thank God, Natasha Wightman’s voice-over does just what it needs to. I always find this bit very moving in comic and film.
At the same time, as she moves from doubt to anguish, Portman finds her dramatic footing and simultaneously limbers up for GOYA’S GHOSTS, part of her Trilogy of Torture which has either yet to be concluded or climaxed with YOUR HIGHNESS which tortured the audience.
And I still feel a thrill at the Houses of Parliament going up at the end. “It’s a shame, though — it’s a nice building,” said Fiona after we saw this on release.
“Yeah, but, can’t make an omelette…”
Of course, the film’s lasting significance is the face it gave to Occupy, that anti-political political movement (whose spokesman is surely Russell Brand). Alan Moore was amused by the irony of a piece of Warner Brothers marketing being commandeered by an anti-corporate movement — every mask sold adding dollars to the WB coffers. But he was also a little touched, I think.