05 November 2007


Some years ago, while staying with family near London, I took a trip to the Public Records Office at Kew with a friend of mine; despite being a native, she had never heard of the place, and was perhaps even more enthralled than me as we strolled about looking at such treasures as the Magna Carta and the Domesday Book, Shakespeare's will, the trial record of King Charles I, the Dambusters raid official report, and letters from Edward VII, Sir Francis Drake, Jane Austen, and - perhaps - Jack the Ripper.

One of the most poignant documents on show, certainly rather more significant than the deed poll by which Reginald Dwight became Elton John, was the confession of poor, brave, stupid Guy Fawkes. There's something desperate about that frail, illegible signature - it doesn't bear thinking about what he'd been put through just to give up the names that the authorities already had anyway.

I've always loved the story, told by Alan Moore in 'Behind the Painted Smile', nowadays presented as an afterword to V for Vendetta, of how David Lloyd had been inspired by Guy Fawkes when he first envisaged the character of 'V':
The big breakthrough was all Dave's, much as it sickens me to admit it. More remarkable still, it was all contained in one single letter that he'd dashed off the top of his head and which, like most of Dave's handwriting, needed the equivalent of a Rosetta Stone to actually interpret. I transcribe the relevant portions beneath:

"Re. The script: While I was writing this, I had this idea about the hero, which is a bit redundant now we've got [can't read the next bit] but nonetheless... I was thinking, why don't we portray him as a resurrected Guy Fawkes, complete with one of those papier mâché masks, in a cape and conical hat? he'd look really bizarre and it would Give Guy Fawkes the image he's deserved all these years. We shouldn't burn the chap every Nov. 5th but celebrate his attempt to blow up Parliament!"

The moment I read these words, two things occurred to me. Firstly, Dave was obviously a lot less sane than I'd hitherto believed him to be, and secondly, this was the best idea I'd ever heard in my entire life. All of the various fragments fell into place, united behind the single image of a Guy Fawkes mask.
And thus a legend was born.

For the record, while I think the comic's a true masterpiece, I like the film almost as much as I do the book. Granted, shifting V's stance from pure anarchy to conventional democracy is perhaps a step too far, making the film a less ambivalent and challenging work than the book, but it solves the many narrative challenges with creativity and style, credibly updates the story's political backdrop, is perfectly cast, and looks magnificent.

And it introduces The Count of Monte Cristo into the story too, which is always a good thing.

On balance, the Wachowski brothers and James McTeigue did themselves proud. I fear I'll not be saying anything even close to that about Watchmen, which I'm perhaps unfairly already readying myself to dismiss as a dishonourable failure to rank with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Odd, by the way, that I missed the Irish bonfires and fireworks because I was in England last week, and shall miss the English ones as I'm in Ireland tonight.

So it goes.

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