Written By Cadeem Lalor
I first watched V for Vendetta (2006) when I was living in England over a decade ago. Hugo Weaving’s performance was a highlight, which compensated for Natalie Portman’s dodgy English accent and some weak dialogue from the supporting characters. Weaving’s performance, the cinematography and the film’s finale are the main reasons I still remember the film fondly. I became aware of the source material a few years later, when one comic reader after another said the film was a poor adaptation. With consistent disdain directed at the film, I decided to finally check out the comic to make the judgment for myself.
Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta (1987-1988) takes place in the late 1990s Britain. After a devastating nuclear event in the 1980s, Britain’s society crumbled, making way for the Fascist Norsefire Party to claim power. All racial, religious and sexual minorities were moved to concentration camps, leaving only heterosexual whites in England. Amidst this environment, a masked freedom fighter named V attempts to topple the government. Along his journey he saves a young girl named Evey Hammond and enlists her help for his mission.
Like any film, V for Vendetta suffers from being an abridged version of a tale that is more complex and verbose. The biggest contributor to its verbose nature is V himself, who delivers several poetic passages throughout the series, mainly centered on his relationship with Jesus, personified as a mistress that left him for fascism. The film’s alliteration speech might convince some people (not me) that long bouts of poetry can’t work in film, but they can work if they reveal something about the character’s view of the world. V’s terrorist acts may be directed at the government, but he ultimately feels betrayed by the people he is trying to help. While he tries to save them, he also blames them for giving power to an organization like Norsefire.
Another change is Evey’s age and occupation. While she is apparently in her 20s in the movie and works as a “runner” for a news station, she is a teenaged prostitute in the comic. This change struck me as one of the most unnecessary ones since it also detracts from Evey’s arc. Hammond is caught in a sting operation the first time she propositions a client. Her entire backstory captures the hopelessness of someone growing up in this fascist society. She loses both her parents and grows up in a youth hostel. Poverty leads to her foray into prostitution, and I feel like this element of desperation and misfortune was toned down in the film.
This also makes her transformation into V’s protégé less satisfying. Both versions of the character go through a boot camp of sorts, where V leads them to believe they are captured and then tortured by police for days on end. V also provides Hammond with a letter he received while he was staying in a concentration camp. In the letter, a lesbian named Valerie recounts her life story and provides motivation to fight against the system. Once Hammond demonstrates she is no longer afraid of torture, or death by firing squad, V ends the torture. While both versions are initially angry at the betrayal, they realize the purpose of the test and channel their anger into their fight against Norsefire. Comic Hammond transcends one misfortune after another before taking up V’s mantle, making it the ultimate story of triumph.
Additionally, many of the scenes from the comic were changed to enhance the action. Most notably, a solitary showdown between V and Detective Eric Finch becomes a fight between V and multiple men, with slow-motion for good measure. While Weaving is still amazing as V, I can understand why some fans of the comic were disappointed with how V was interpreted for the big screen. V for Vendetta is a great film, but a weaker adaptation.
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