V for Vendetta: James McTeigue’s Horror Sci-Fi for the Present

Director James McTeigue describes V for Vendetta as a political thriller first and foremost with a very dark and multifaceted character at its center. On one hand, V is altruistic, believing he can bring about great social change, but on the other hand he has a murderous vendetta towards anyone whos done him wrong.
While preparing for V for Vendetta, McTeigue was influenced by a host of films, principal among them 1965s The Battle of Algiers, a highly realistic account of the Algerian revolution against the French, fought from 1954 to 1962. Like Stanley Kubricks A Clockwork Orange, George Orwells 1984, Ray Bradburys Fahrenheit 451 or Lindsay Andersons If…., V For Vendetta cautions against the dangers of corruption, control, manipulation and repression, while exploring the perils of extremism ” whether it be a government abusing its power or an individual taking the law into his own hands.

The film is based on the graphic novel of the same name ” V for Vendetta first appeared in Warrior, an independent monthly comic magazine published in 1981, quickly capturing a cult following. Co-created by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, it ran in 26 issues before the magazine folded, leaving fans hanging mid-plot. After a five-year hiatus, Moore and Lloyd completed V for Vendetta in 1989 under the DC banner when it was released in its entirety as a graphic novel.

V For Vendetta is set slightly in the future, where modern day London is still very recognizable. Creators Moore and Lloyd were influenced by the times in which they lived. Our attitude towards Margaret Thatchers ultra-conservative government was one of the driving forces behind the fascist British police state we created in Vendetta, Lloyd explains. The destruction of this system was Vs primary reason for existence.

Thematically, Moore and Lloyds series explores many political and ethical notions of continuing relevance in todays world. The principal message of the original is that every individual has the right to be an individual, and the right “and duty ” to resist being forced into conformism, comments Lloyd. V resists by directly attacking government installations and murdering the regimes supporters. So its not just a story about a battle against an evil tyranny, but a story about terrorism and whether terrorism can ever be justified ” and thats something we have to try to understand if were ever to solve the problem of it in the real world.

Writer-directors Andy and Larry Wachowski, the inspired minds behind the revolutionary Matrix trilogy, were fans of Moore and Lloyds original work, and first wrote a screen adaptation of the graphic novel in the mid-1990s, before embarking on the Herculean task of filming the Matrix trilogy. During post-production on the second and third installments of The Matrix, the Wachowskis revisited the Vendetta script and brought it to the attention of their first assistant director, James McTeigue, with whom they had worked on all three Matrix films. McTeigue had been directing commercials at the time and was looking to transition to feature films.

We were in post-production on Revolutions when Andy and Larry first gave me a copy of V for Vendetta, remembers McTeigue. Intrigued and excited about the themes of the graphic novel, he shared the Wachowskis view of its relevance in the current political landscape. We felt the novel was very prescient to how the political climate is at the moment. It really showed what can happen when society is ruled by government, rather than the government being run as a voice of the people. I dont think its such a big leap to say that things like that can happen when leaders stop listening to the people.

At the time, the Wachowskis had just reached the end of a 10-year odyssey with the Matrix films and were not prepared to immediately jump back into directing. As McTeigue explains, Ten years is a long time to spend on anything, and making films takes a lot out of you. I think Andy and Larry wanted the film to be made now, but wanted to take a back seat for awhile.

So the Wachowskis and producer Joel Silver offered their longtime colleague the opportunity to direct V For Vendetta, surrounded by many of the Wachowskis other key collaborators, such as producer Grant Hill, production designer Owen Paterson, visual effects supervisor Dan Glass and stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski, with the brothers collaborating as producers and writers.

In returning to the script, the Wachowskis went back to their original draft and set about making revisions. As McTeigue recalls, Their original version was a really good adaptation, but it was almost a blow-for-blow retelling of the graphic novel. We thought it would be good to move the story forward in time, setting the flashback portion in the 1990s and projecting the present-day timeline into the future around 2020.

Other key revisions included streamlining Moore and Lloyds storyline, altering Eveys background and making her older than in the original material. The graphic novel is quite sprawling and has a lot of characters, McTeigue points out. Some of those characters had to be amalgamated or taken out, but all the while we made sure we were adhering to the themes and integrity of the graphic novel.

The adaptation process was made easier by the cinematic way in which Lloyd and Moore constructed the original novel, with traditional thought balloons replaced with captions, and rectangular panels substituted for splashy layouts. Lloyd feels the Wachowski screenplay adaptation was a good representation of the original. I never had a purist concept of Vendetta as just a comic, he remembers. It always felt like an idea that could be transposed to other forms of media. In any of my work, the only expectation and desire is that the spirit and key elements are retained and the same essential message is captured.

The filmmakers were adamant that Vs enduring mystery remain intact, and in reverence to Moore and Lloyds novel and richly drawn character, in the film Vs horribly burned and disfigured face remains hidden behind a mask that carries the visage of Guy Fawkes, another legendary saboteur who came to a violent end over four hundred years ago.

On November 5th, 1605, Fawkes was captured beneath the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder hidden beneath pieces of iron and firewood. While tortured, Fawkes revealed an audacious conspiracy to blow up the English Parliament and King James I on a day when the King was due to open the parliamentary session. Fawkes was one of 13 disaffected Catholics who hoped to end James persecution of English Catholics. The intent was to create chaos and disorder in the country from which, it was hoped, a new monarch and political regime sympathetic to the Catholic cause would emerge. A veteran soldier, Fawkes was highly proficient with gunpowder and so became an integral part of the groups scheme.

A cellar underneath the House of Lords was acquired by the conspirators where they stored explosives and awaited the opening of Parliament. However, as more accomplices were drawn into the plot, secrecy was endangered and an anonymous letter to Lord Monteagle, a Catholic, warning him to stay away from the opening of Parliament, brought about the plans demise. On the night of November 4th, Fawkes was caught in the cellar, arrested and brought before the King. Succumbing to grueling torture, his silence was broken and the ambitious plan disclosed. Fawkes and the other members of the group were publicly hanged, drawn and quartered, as was customary for traitors at that time.

Every year across England on November 5th, bonfires blaze and fireworks light the sky in celebration of the foiling of Fawkes plot to overturn King and government. Fawkes masks are sold throughout the country and effigies of the conspirator, or Guys, are burned.

When Alan Moore and David Lloyd were originally conceiving the character of V for their graphic novel V for Vendetta, Guy Fawkes provided inspiration for the comics political context. Like Fawkes, V hopes to create chaos from which the countrys insidious regime will fall. Guy Fawkes was a kind of early anarchist, says Lloyd. He seemed to be the perfect inspiration for V.

There is a dramatically disturbing aspect to Vs use of the Guy Fawkes mask as well. Guy Fawkes masks have a kind of eerie look because of their smile, Lloyd notes. It makes the character look bizarre and threatening at the same time ” the last thing you expect from someone coming to kill you is a smile on their face.

In V For Vendetta, the man behind that eerily grinning mask is multifaceted actor Hugo Weaving, whose impressive and varied career includes starring roles as the deadly Agent Smith in the Matrix trilogy and as Elrond in all three installments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as memorable turns in the indie sensations The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Proof.

In the midst of his quest to free the people of England from their fascist leaders, V is on a very personal mission to wreak vengeance on those who imprisoned and tortured him, and in doing so, created a monster. One by one he is systematically eliminating these enemies, leaving a single Violet Carson rose as his calling card at the scene of each murder. Possessing deeply-held convictions, heightened by this bitter personal vendetta, V fights passionately for dignity and freedom in a dystopian and fascist Britain. This takes cunning and guile, a certain fearlessness, bravado, a capacity for extremism and a touch of madness.

With his entire performance taking place behind the immobile mask, leaving him without the facial expressions or eye contact that are fundamental tools for an actor, Weaving had to find other ways in which to humanize and animate V. I loved doing mask work at drama school a long time ago, remarks Hugo Weaving, and making Vs mask work onscreen was a great acting challenge. You need to convey a lot through voice, but there are also small, fluid movements you can use that help give the mask a life it might not otherwise have had. It was also a question of trying to work out what the mask says in different light and with various shadings.

From the moment Hugo put the mask on, we knew it would work, says McTeigue. He has a theatre background, which is important to the character. He also has a great physicality and a fantastic voice. He was able to make peace with the masks claustrophobic restraints and convey emotion through his voice and movement.

Vs use of the Guy Fawkes mask and persona functions as both practical and symbolic elements of the story. He wears the mask to hide his physical scars, and in obscuring his identity, V becomes more than just a man with a revolutionary idea ” he becomes the idea itself. This underscores Vs belief that a man can be defeated, but ideas can endure and retain their power forever. Vs mask also provides contrast to the metaphorical masks worn by his fellow citizens, who have surrendered their individual identities and beliefs in order to assimilate and avoid persecution by the government.