Stephen Fry plays a closeted television host, a gay Jay Leno. Like V, he is a man living behind a mask, a man who despises those in power, but who, in exchange for wealth and security, helps to keep his audience docile with mindless entertainment. Unlike your typical gay character, however, Fry soon finds the courage to be one of the first to challenge the brutal government. His actions inspire others to resist as well.
But Fry's storyline is nothing compared to that of Valerie (Natasha Wightman), a lesbian whose life is told in an extended flashback. Indeed, this is where Vendetta becomes truly extraordinary as we learn it is Valerie's story — more specifically, her unwavering love for a woman named Ruth (Mary Stockley) — that inspires his vendetta.
During the flashback, we see Valerie and Ruth meet and fall in love, and build a life together.
Then we see them begin to watch and worry as their rights get stripped away.
When they come for Ruth, and two gay men are hauled from their beds and beaten, Valerie says, “I don't understand why they hate us so much.” Then Valerie is arrested, and dragged off to a prison where she is subjected to terrible medical experiments.
It is in prison that Valerie, fighting to hold onto her humanity, resists her fate by committing her story to paper. She writes how it is her integrity that is the most important thing in the world, that as long as she has that last inch of herself, she is still free in some sense:
Evey eventually reads Valerie's letter too, and, like V, is changed forever, suddenly unwilling to live the life of a docile sheep.
It is an extraordinarily powerful moment in the film, not just because it is beautifully acted and well-written, but because it is so utterly unexpected.
What makes this screenplay, written by the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix, Bound), even more remarkable is that much of this was added to the source material, a graphic novel by Alan Moore. When was the last time you heard of a Hollywood movie being "gayed" up? Of course, it's usually the exact opposite that happens, as in Fried Green Tomatoes, where the book's lesbian relationship becomes so blurred that any audience member can read practically anything he or she wants into it.
That isn't the case with V for Vendetta at all. The Wachowskis not only made Stephen Fry's straight character gay, but made him a symbol of resistance.
Most importantly, however, they made Valerie's story — which was always important in the comic — the very center of the film. Her time on screen is brief, but it is the transformative moment for both the characters and the audience.
Some GLBT gadflies may criticize this movie because, while the movie idealizes GLBT love, it is still the heterosexual characters who ultimately save the day.
They will have missed the point.
V for Vendetta is not a broad comedy with Robin Williams pretending to be gay, or an art-house movie like Brokeback Mountain produced on a small budget for a relatively limited, upscale audience.
This is a big budget action film aimed at the widest possible audience, and a lesbian love story stands right in the heart of it. A lesbian's strength and courage inspires a man to start a revolution, and another woman to finish it.
One day there will surely be big budget action films with GLBT lead characters. But by the time that happens, the audience will necessarily have become tolerant to the point where the characters' gayness will be a non-issue.
In V for Vendetta, meanwhile, gayness is the issue, at a time when the subject is one of the country's and the world's most contentious controversies. V for Vendetta is one of the bravest, boldest movies in years. It's also one of the most pro-gay ever.