This was based on a British graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, which appeared in 1982 and became a comic book series published by DC at first, then by Vertigo Comics until 2018, and afterwards by Black Label. It depicts a post-apocalyptic United Kingdom. The Norsefire Party is in charge, a Nordic Supremacist, Neo-Fascist, Christo-Fascist, Homophobic Police State. V is an anarchist revolutionary in a Guy Fawkes mask. His protegé is young woman named Evey Hammond.
A bewildering collection of dystopian sources had an influence: Orwell’s 1984, Judge Dredd, Harlan Ellison, Vincent Price’s Doctor Phibes, David Bowie, The Shadow, Batman, Fahrenheit 451, Thomas Pynchon, The Prisoner, Robin Hood, the Phantom of the Opera, and more. Alan Moore disliked the 2005 film intensely, a common story with comic book writers, as he felt both the Anarchist and Fascist themes were watered down for public consumption. Since then, however, the Guy Fawkes mask has become popular at political demonstrations from the UK and America to Egypt and Hong Kong, despite the fact that Time Warner owns the image and profits from every sale.
What with global war, pandemic, and terrorism, the world is in turmoil. There is a second civil war in the US, and the UK is ruled by the Nordic Supremacist, Neo-Fascist Norsefire Party, run by the all-powerful High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). Political opponents, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, atheists, and homosexuals are imprisoned and executed. Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) is rescued from the Secret Police by V, a vigilante in a Guy Fawkes mask (Hugo Weaving). He blows up the Old Bailey, accompanied by fireworks and the 1812 Overture. Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) of Scotland Yard investigates. V hijacks a broadcast, claims responsibility, and encourages the British people to meet with him on Guy Fawkes Night outside Parliament.
V takes Evey home. He kills Lewis Prothero (Roger Allen), the government’s chief propagandist, and Anthony Lilliman (John Standing), the Bishop of London, with Evey’s help. Evey escapes to the home of her boss Gordon Dietrich (Stephen Fry), who reveals to her his subversive paintings, an antique Qur’an, and homoerotic photographs. V kills Doctor Delia Surridge (Sinéad Cusack), who experimented on him in a concentration camp, ruining his face. After Gordon satirizes the government on his show, his home is raided and Evey is captured. She refuses to reveal V’s location, and it turns out she was in V’s home all the time, being tested for loyalty.
Reading Surridge’s journal, Finch learns that V is the result of experimentation. It seems the Virus that devastated the world was the result of a secret project, purposely released on the public and blamed on terrorists. Guy Fawkes Day approaches. Thousands of masks are distributed. Riots break out and the UK sinks into anarchy. V shows Evey an Underground train filled with explosives. He leaves it to Evey to decide whether to send it to Parliament. Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith), head of the Secret Service, executes Sutler. V kills Creedy and his men. Mortally wounded himself, V staggers to the tunnel and dies in Evey’s arms, professing his love. Disillusioned, Finch lets Evey send the train to the Parliament Building, with V’s body on board.
V’s story is strongly influenced by the Count of Monte Christo, not to mention the Phantom of the Opera. There are references to George Bush and the Abu Graib prisoner abuse scandal. The screenplay was written by the Wachowskis and influenced their Matrix Trilogy. Natalie Portman had her head shaved for the role. Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Parliament, and Big Ben were closed for three nights for filming, the first time this had happened. Hugo Weaving was unintelligible in the mask and had to re-record all his dialog. The film got two thumb up from Ebert and Roeper (dating myself now). Other reviewers were not as kind. It was nominated for a Hugo and Natalie Portman received a Saturn Award.
To everyone’s surprise, it was broadcast in China, completely uncensored. Generally, it was praised for its sympathetic depiction of Gays. A scene with dominoes falling to create a V used 22,000 dominoes and took 200 hours to set up. In the graphic novel, the Fascists are more complex and human, the Anarchists more violent than in the movie. Their aim is Anarchy, not Liberty, and what Alan Moore hated most was the way the politics had been dumbed down and simplified for the masses. He disowned the film, as he had the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and later Watchmen, and he cut ties with DC Comics and Warner Brothers.