V For Vendetta | 2005
Alan Moore, writer of the graphic novel V For Vendetta, removed his name from the film’s credits (though illustrator David Lloyd remains), but any film that begins with its anti-hero blowing London’s Central Criminal Court to bits and climaxes by dishing out the same treatment to the seat of government hardly looks like it’s pulling its punches.
A prologue quickly recaps the story of Guy Fawkes (“the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions”), caught trying to blow up the Palace of Westminster in 1605. The hanging of Fawkes was filmed in the courtyard at the South Front of Hatfield House, Hatfield in Hertfordshire. Situated close to London and major film studios, the huge Elizabethan mansion is a natural for the screen, having appeared as ‘Wayne Manor’ in Tim Burtons Batman, as the home of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider; as well as starring in period pieces such as Shakespeare in Love and Henry VIII And His Six Wives, among many others.
Although set in a vaguely futuristic totalitarian Britain, most of the film was made in the famous old Babelsberg Studio in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam, where V’s underground lair – the impressive ‘Shadow Gallery’ – was built.
Built in 1917, Babelsberg hosted a string of classics including Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Metropolis and The Blue Angel, before becoming tainted by association with Nazi propaganda films. It’s seen a successful resurgence in recent years, with productions such as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
A few scenes in the UK establish the real London. The masked figure of V (Hugo Weaving) sees off a trio of corrupt Fingermen who threaten Evey (Natalie Portman) as she walks along Cloth Fair, alongside St Bartholomew’s Church in West Smithfield, after curfew. The name Cloth Fair dates from medieval times when merchants gathered here to buy and sell material during Bartholomew Fair.
An empty property on precisely the same stretch of road became the 60s dress shop in the 2010 film of Brighton Rock.
The church of St Bartholomew is a well-used location – most famously for the final non-wedding of Four Weddings And A Funeral, while West Smithfield itself became the intelligence services emergency HQ after Vauxhall Cross is attacked in Skyfall.
V takes Evey not too far to enjoy a “musical event”. Giltspur Street runs south from Smithfield into Old Bailey, EC4, the short road which gives its name to the Central Criminal Court, V’s target.
Standing on the site of the notorious old Newgate Gaol, off Ludgate Hill just west of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Old Bailey is invariably used to signal a major court case in British films. Its iconic statue of blindfold Justice, brandishing a sword in one hand and scales in the other, has loomed over such courtroom melodramas as Alfred Hitchcock’s 1947 The Paradine Case and, ten years later, Billy Wilder’s Witness For The Prosecution.
A one-tenth scale model of the venerable building was built at Babelsberg for the pyrotechnics as it’s demolished to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
To the north of Smithfield’s famous meat market, the young Evey – seen in flashback after the death of her brother – hands out anti-viral weapons leaflets at the entrance to Farringdon Tube Station on Cowcross Street.
It’s even further north to Canonbury in N1 for the home of TV celeb Gordon Deitrich (Stephen Fry). After being linked to the terrorist V, Evey stays with the closeted subversive at 6 Alwyne Road, off Canonbury Road, until he oversteps the mark with a satirical sketch and is whisked away by the sinister forces of Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt).
Not far away, in Barnsbury, the home of coroner Dr Delia Surridge (Sinéad Cusack), once a staff member at the hated ‘Larkhill’ detention facility, is on Thornhill Crescent, at Crescent Street. It’s here that V delivers a red rose and dispatches the last of his former tormentors.
The neo-fascist ‘Norsefire Party’ rally addressed by Chancellor Sutler is held in Berlin, where the red and black banners are draped across the columned frontage of Konzerthaus Berlin on Gendarmenmarkt. The Konzerthaus, built as a theatre in 1821, was severely damaged during World War II but, like the neighbouring buildings on Gendarmenmarkt, was restored in the 1980s. Now a concert hall, it’s home to the Konzerthausorchester Berlin.
It’s back to London and Barnsbury as a delivery truck careers along Bridgeman Road into Thornhill Crescent, just yards from the home of Dr Surridge, to distribute consignments of Fawkes masks across the capital.
V’s plan begins to kick in when an angry crowd turns on the Fingerman who shoots a masked girl on the footbridge on Regent’s Park Road, west of the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, NW1.
The underground railway scenes were filmed in the disused Aldwych Station in the Strand. Once a one-stop spur of the Piccadilly line, running back and forth to Holborn, the little-used station closed to the public in 1994, since when it’s been a regular stand in for stations too busy too close, including ‘Balham’ in Atonement.
The station’s tiled exterior, still bearing its original name, Strand, can be glimpsed in one of V For Vendetta’s news broadcasts documenting chaos erupting on the streets of London.
As the Fifth of November arrives, masked hordes descend on Trafalgar Square and march down Whitehall.
Lined by government buildings, including the Ministry of Defence and the entrance to Downing Street (official home of the Prime Minister), Whitehall is obviously a sensitive area and until recently was rarely closed for filming. Recently it’s begun to appear more often – think of the overturned double-decker bus in 28 Days Later... or James Bond (Daniel Craig) racing down the street in Skyfall.
The final confrontation of the anonymous populace and the military was staged over three nights at the foot of Whitehall in Parliament Square. A security nightmare saw two tanks, 400 masked protesters and 200 uniformed extras brandishing weapons gathered outside the Houses of Parliament.