Home > Reviews > V FOR VENDETTA – Dario Marianelli

V FOR VENDETTA – Dario Marianelli

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Remember, remember, the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot; I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.

In the UK, every November the 5th is celebrated as “bonfire night”, a rather odd but very popular tradition which commemorates the events of 5 November 1605, when a group of Catholic conspirators led by a fellow named Guy Fawkes tried to assassinate the Protestant King James I by blowing up the Houses of Parliament with barrels of gunpowder (their ultimate aim was to return a Catholic monarch to the throne). Fawkes was chosen as the one who would physically light the barrels and set off the explosions, but the plot was apparently foiled when he fell asleep in one of the chambers under Parliament and was discovered by guards. He was arrested, confessed under torture, and identified his co-conspirators. Fawkes was subsequently convicted of treason and executed by being hung, drawn and quartered, and as a final ignominy, had his remains burnt in public, a sort of “taste of his own medicine”, to do to him what he would have done to the King.

For some reason, which I don’t fully understand myself, the English public choose to commemorate this event, and have continued to do so for the last 400 years. Traditionally, each town and village builds a communal bonfire, on which an effigy of either Fawkes or Pope Paul V is burnt – although, in these days of religious tolerance and political correctness, effigies of the Pope are rarely made. Fireworks are set off, there is plenty of eating and drinking, and families come together to have a jolly wholesome time. The original meaning of the celebration – the Church of England’s victory over Catholicism – has been diluted over time, but the legacy of Fawkes remains strong to this day. To some, he is seen as nothing more than a terrorist, to others he was a freedom fighter, struggling to free his country from what he saw as a tyrannical rule. This interesting history is the jumping off point for the new action thriller, V for Vendetta.

Directed by James McTeigue and written by Matrix creators Larry and Andy Wachowski (based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd), V for Vendetta takes place in the year 2020 in a “parallel reality” where the Nazis have won World War 2 and England is now a fascist police state under the control of ruthless dictator Adam Sutler (John Hurt). Across the Atlantic, the United States has imploded and broken apart, following a second civil war and years of plague, poverty, and civil unrest. However, Sutler has a thorn in his side: a mysterious vigilante known only as “V” (Hugo Weaving), a swashbuckling freedom fighter whose face is hidden behind a Guy Fawkes mask, and who models himself on his Jacobean predecessor. Things begin to come to a head when Evey (Natalie Portman), who works for the state-controlled TV station, is attacked one night by members of the secret police: she is saved by V, and before long finds herself witnessing the beginnings of V’s crusade to topple Sutler and the totalitarian government. His target date for victory? November 5th…

The film, which also stars Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, Rupert Graves and Tim Pigott-Smith, is widely tipped to be one of 2006’s most popular and successful entries, and has already been garnering positive reviews for its intelligent screenplay, rip-roaring action, stylish visual style and prescient political overtones. In addition, the film is yet another spot in the limelight for the young Anglo-Italian composer Dario Marianelli who, following his Oscar nomination for Pride & Prejudice and his equally acclaimed work on The Brothers Grimm in 2005, is relishing his continued high exposure. Like The Brothers Grimm, V for Vendetta is generally a dark, menacing work, written for a full orchestra, which more often than not growls down in the lowest registers, complementing the shadowy, dangerous world V inhabits. Unike Grimm, however, this score also features a fair amount of electronic and synthesised music, reminding the listener that the action is not taking place in some murky past, but in a twisted possible future. To Marianelli’s credit, though, he blends the two elements nicely, resulting in a score which, while not exactly earth-shatteringly good, nevertheless achieves what it set out to achieve, and provides a solid hour’s listening experience.

Marianelli’s action music is dense and rhythmic, and has lots of energy, but never lapses into the chaos which could otherwise make listeners lose the focus of what it is going on. The tone is dark and the pacing is, at times, quite furious, but the clever instrumental choices and some of the more unusual performance techniques are often easily discernible above the orchestral pulses, giving the score a pleasing level of clarity. The opening “Remember Remember” kick-starts the score with a bang, and contains a nicely nostalgic nod to Danny Elfman’s 1980s action brass writing. Later cues, such as the percussion-heavy “Valerie”, “England Prevails” and the exciting and powerful “The Dominoes Fall” are enjoyable continuations of the style.

Every now and again, Marianelli also brings his choir into the mix, adding a level of dramatic intensity and a sense of importance to cues such as the dark, brooding “Governments Should Be Afraid of Their People”, or an ecclesiastical edge to the plainsong-infused “Lust at the Abbey”. To counterbalance the sturm-und-drang, Marianalli’s theme for Natalie Portman’s character Evey is lighter, a little innocent, a little naïve, a little more hopeful. Anchored by romantic strings and feathery woodwinds, it first appears during the shattering “Evey’s Story”, interweaves throughout the course of the machinations in “The Red Diary”, emerges into unexpectedly lovely, piano-driven Thomas Newman territory during the second half of “Valerie,” and eventually comes to a head during the stunning “Evey Reborn”. Filled with high, searching, longing sustained strings, dramatic brass chords, an angelic chorus, and a potent sense of emotional desperation, it was all I could do not to burst into tears during my first experience of this amazing cue.

Unusually, the conclusive cue – “Knives and Bullets (and Cannons Too)” – instead of providing a large-scale statement of a new, original theme, engages in several minutes of throbbing build-up, and then erupts into a gigantic, rousing statement of the most famous part of Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’, which was written to celebrate Russia victory over the French during the Napoleonic Wars in 1812, and here underscores the climactic sequence of “V” finally fulfilling Guy Fawkes’s legacy, albeit 415 years late. It’s an unusual, but highly effective conceit, which works wonderfully well. In addition to Marianelli’s score, the soundtrack features three songs: Julie London’s original 1955 rendition of “Cry Me a River”, Cat Power’s new rendition of the Velvet Underground classic “I Found a Reason”, and the Antony and the Johnsons song “Bird Gerhl”, whose Mercury Music Prize-winning album “I Am A Bird Now” was produced by Thomas Newman.

Although V for Vendetta is unlikely earn a place on anyone’s all-time favourite action scores, it nevertheless leaves a generally positive impression, and will undoubtedly continue to enhance the already increasing reputation of Marianelli among score fans, and the wider Hollywood community at large. If your favourite of his two 2005 scores was Pride & Prejudice, you may find V for Vendetta just too overbearing for your liking; if, however, your tastes leaned more towards the gothic grandeur of The Brother’s Grimm, then this one might be exactly what your ears have been crying out for since then. And remember… holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring. Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Remember Remember (6:42)
  • Cry Me A River (written by Arthur Hamilton, performed by Julie London) (2:48)
  • Governments Should Be Afraid of Their People (3:11)
  • Evey’s Story (2:48)
  • Lust at the Abbey (3:17)
  • The Red Diary (7:33)
  • Valerie (8:48)
  • Evey Reborn (3:50)
  • I Found A Reason (written by Lou Reed, performed by Cat Power) (2:02)
  • England Prevails (5:44)
  • The Dominoes Fall (5:28)
  • Bird Gerhl (written by Antony Hegarty, performed by Antony & the Johnsons) (3:17)
  • Knives and Bullets (and Cannons Too) (includes extracts from “1812 Overture” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky) (7:33)

Running Time: 63 minutes 09 seconds

Astralworks 0946-3-58414-2-8 (2006)

Music composed by Dario Marianelli. Conducted and orchestrated by Benjamin Walfisch. Additional music by Bradley Miles. Special vocal performances by Micaela Haslam. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Edited by Peter Clarke. Album produced by Dario Marianelli.

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