“Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I see no reason why the Gunpowder treason,
Should ever be forgot.”
— Guy Fawkes.
In the 1980s, Alan Moore and David Lloyd wrote and sketched a ferocious critique of the fascist regime, V for Vendetta, a ten-issue limited series of comics. The hero, or rather anti-hero, of this story was a person referred to as V, a man who put on a Guy Fawkes mask and believed in anarchy wholeheartedly. V, a masked vigilante, grew out of the system to establish a withering revolt against those in power. In 2005, the Wachowski siblings created a cult classic film modelled after the original work. They named it, like the comics, V for Vendetta. They moulded its hero after the Guy Fawkes lookalike within the comics. Many changes were made to update the setting, the characters and, therefore, the message, to appeal to a modern audience. Also, the siblings dealt with the anarchist undercurrent that drove Moore’s writing. Though the film and the graphic novel share the identical name, the same basic storyline, and an ordinary vigilante, Moore and Lloyd’s book and the Wachowskis’ movie could not be more different, at least in intention.
In her essay, “On the Art of Adaptation,” Linda Hutcheon writes about an adaptation’s fidelity. While discussing the art and technique of adaptation, she points out certain prejudices such as adaptations being considered secondary to the text, especially by the critics who identify whether the adaptation is faithful to the original text or not. It also becomes necessary for the directors and writers to decide whether to remain extremely reliable to the original text or to make changes in it. These decisions depend upon the context and time in which the adaptation is placed. It becomes crucial to identify such changes in the adaptations, such as V for Vendetta, and comment upon the reasons for these changes.
Hugo Weaving in the film is a character much more developed than the one the readers encounter in the graphic novel. While in the graphic novel V is an anti-hero driven by his desire for revenge, in the film, V’s character is humanised by Evey, as the two share a relationship where V develops a caring attitude towards her, and it gives him more strength to take revenge. In the film he is fighting for those he loves. This humanisation of V enables the audience to sympathise with him at the moment of his death.
The film can also be studied from a feminist viewpoint. The character of Evey in the movie is more comprehensive and uncomplicated as compared to the one in the graphic novel. In the graphic novel, she is only a young prostitute who becomes a sidekick to V in his journey and desire for revenge. In the film, she has more character development. She is an independent and confident woman who is no more a background plater, but a character who owns space and takes agency whenever required. She has a voice, and her personality provides her with autonomy. These aspects of Evey’s character make her an equal owner of V’s story. She has been portrayed as a courageous person who is not deterred even when threatened during a scary interrogation.
Another change that can be considered an integral one is the increased involvement of the public. They act on V’s message and march against their government, fighting for themselves at the end. There is not much emphasis given to the general public in the graphic novel, where V individually tries to take on the government. This helps to understand that V’s general public was swayed, and they came out to fight for their democratic rights.
Kamilla Elliot, in her essay, “Literary Cinema and the Form/Content Debate“, lists modes of adaptation.
The Psychic Concept of Adaptation is defined as one that helps to maintain the spirit of the original but at the same time creates something new too. In V for Vendetta, the film’s spirit has been held by the anti-fascist sentiment that Moore has displayed in his graphic novel. Though it is believed that the original had been written in the backdrop of the authoritative regime of Margaret Thatcher, the adaptation is based on the Bush administration in America. However, the setting in both of these remains the United Kingdom. Similarly, warfare has changed from nuclear conflict in the graphic novel to biological warfare in the film. Though there has been an emphatic change in the warfare technique, the horror engulfs the citizens.
The Trumping Concept of Adaptation is defined as improving the original by adding specific changes in the adaptation. This can be a change in a situation, a scene or a character. It is believed that this concept of adaptation attempts to correct the original’s mistakes or improve them. One of the relevant examples of it here is how the film has provided a better character development for Evey, as discussed above.
The Ventriloquist Concept of Adaptation is defined as one where the adaptation adds to the original with the filmic spirit, including the production design, sets, etc. There is a transfer of the text’s images into the filmic energy rendered in a film. In V for Vendetta, there has been extensive use of imagery initially found in the text, such as the blowing up of V’s statues as a challenge to the government’s control and hegemony.
Within these few examples, one can say that a lot is lost in translating the text into the adaptation, but at the same time, a movement away from the text provides an avenue to improve upon the written word.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.