As the film’s due to be released in a couple of weeks, it feels like an appropriate time to talk about ‘V for Vendetta’.
V (as I’ll call it from here onwards, though I know that invites confusion with the TV series starring the humanoid lizards with the pseudo-swastika emblem) is something I’ve been a fan of for the best part of twenty years. I first discovered it in black and white in the ground-breaking British comic Warrior, where it was initially published, though when Warrior was cancelled (leaving the story on possibly one of the most startling and reader-tormenting cliffhangers possible), I had to wait for the colour reprint-and-completion by DC Comics in the USA.
It was worth the wait, as despite being a little dated now (events in the story are set in 1997), it’s a remarkable feat of storytelling – the art’s utterly different from the vast majority of comics, the writing’s literate and intelligent, and the story’s one which is arguably even more important in the current political climate. All this, without using any sound effects or thought bubbles.
My fondness hasn’t dimmed over time – lines from the story ring in my mind on a regular basis, I hold that ‘Valerie’ remains one of the most powerful bits of comic work I’ve ever seen, and I’m proud to say that I have an original V sketch (which co-creator David Lloyd did for me) framed and on the wall above my desk as I type this.
So you’re getting the general idea that I like V the comic. How I feel about the film is… well, complicated, I guess. Whilst I like the idea that it might make more people seek out the original work, and that the film might retain even a handful of the 1984ish elements which make the comic so powerful, the general likelihood is that it’ll be diluted in favour of action sequences and the like, and if there’s any truth to the rumours about the ending – which certainly seemed to be evinced by the standee I saw in a cinema last week – then the adaptation by the Wachowski brothers appears likely to have missed the whole point of what V’s anarchy is all about.
The writer of the original comic (and, if I haven’t mentioned it before, possibly one of the finest writers working in any medium), Alan Moore, was sent a copy of the screenplay, and was not impressed, and said so. Despite this, it was claimed by the producer that he’d supported the project. As a result of this blatant untruth on the part of the filmmakers, Moore asked that no future projects based on comics he’s written should bear his name, and that his share of any money should be given to the other creators.
With this in mind, last year, when I heard that production on V had finished shooting in Europe and was moving to the UK, I was curious to see where that was going to take place. As I worked in Westminster at the time, and saw a sign up stating that between midnight and 5am certain areas would be closed (Whitehall and Parliament Square), I guessed that this was probably the location. But I couldn’t help feeling there was a certain hypocrisy to the London authorities decrying terrorism one minute, and permitting the shooting of a film in which a masked anarchist blows up various landmarks in London the next. It smacked of saying something and only meaning it as long as it wasn’t jeopardising some money. And Mr Moore’s comments and treatment struck me as a rather poor show too.
So I called up various authorities in London, my finely-honed but underused journalistic skills telling me there could be a story angle in this. Perhaps appropriately enough, given the transport-related nature of things, I was given the runaround; the local council, road maintenance, and planning people all claimed they didn’t know anything about it, and suggested I called London Transport. When I did so, and explained my question as to whether V was being filmed there, the woman on the line said ‘I can’t tell you that’, and other angles proved equally fruitless. I felt I was being stonewalled, but since I had neither a commission to expend money or effort on the story, and checking it out would being at Westminster at midnight when I had a day job, I let it go.
A few days after the period of road closure, I saw a report in the Evening Standard about, yes, the filming of ‘V for Vendetta’ in Parliament Square, accompanied by pictures of tanks rolling along the London streets, and an ending-spoiling image. The reports referred to V as a ‘revolutionary’, I noted, not a terrorist. So I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a limit on the coverage relating to it, possibly even limited to the Evening Standard so as to woo them – the Standard’s a startlingly kneejerk and insular paper which campaigned against Cronenberg’s ‘Crash’, and which devotes more time than is healthy to coverage of tube delays and the doings of the current mayor. So I wonder if they were given exclusive access or something to pre-empt a negative reaction, especially as it could quite easily have focussed on the terrorist angle. But that’s speculation based on my sense of being stonewalled, I guess.
I’ll probably go and see the film (and if I do, I’ll almost undoubtedly review it here) – if nothing else, I’ll be curious to see if the tales about the ‘Valerie’ sequence being retained are true – though I don’t expect it in any way to have the depth or resonance of the original comic. I am, in the meantime, feeling a weird frisson every time I see an advert for it on the side of a London bus, as V’s been a part of my life for over fifteen years, and suddenly seeing it in the public arena generates a smug sense of ‘knew it was of interest all along’, as well as that slightly regrettable sense that one’s secret pleasure has been discovered by a mass audience.