“Society exists for the benefit of its members, not the members for the benefit of society.” Herbert Spencer
On November 5 it is Guy Fawkes Day in the UK and this commemorates the foiled attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament by a group of dissidents. The conspiracy intended to blow up the English Parliament and King James I in 1605, the day set for the king to open Parliament. The anniversary was named after Guy Fawkes, the most famous of the conspirators. The assassination of the king and the overthrow of his government was to be the beginning of a great uprising of English Catholics, who were distressed by the increased severity of penal laws against the practice of their religion.
The conspirators, who began plotting early in 1604, expanded their number to a point where secrecy was impossible. The conspirators included Robert Catesby, John Wright, and Thomas Winter, the originators, Christopher Wright, Robert Winter, Robert Keyes, Guy Fawkes (a soldier who had been serving in Flanders), Thomas Percy, John Grant, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham, Ambrose Rookwood, and Thomas Bates. Percy hired a cellar under the House of Lords, in which 36 barrels of gunpowder, overlaid with iron bars and firewood, were secretly stored.
The conspiracy was brought to light through a mysterious letter received by Lord Monteagle, a brother-in-law of Tresham, on October 26, urging him not to attend Parliament on the opening day. The 1st earl of Salisbury and others, to whom the plot was made known, took steps leading to the discovery of the materials and the arrest of Fawkes as he entered the cellar. Other conspirators, overtaken in flight or seized afterward, were killed outright, imprisoned, or executed. Among those executed was Henry Garnett, the superior of the English Jesuits, who had known of the conspiracy.
The plot provoked increased hostility against all English Catholics and led to an increase in the harshness of laws against them. Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, is still celebrated in England with fireworks and bonfires, on which effigies of the conspirator are burned.
Please to remember The Fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
I see no reason Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
‘Twas God’s mercy to be sent
To save our King and Parliament
Three score barrels laid below,
For old England’s overthrow
With a lighted candle,
with a lighted match
Boom, boom to let him in.
Anonymous Hertfordshire Rhyme
Quite aptly for today, I am considering a film that was inspired in part by this historical event, but which also looks towards the future and creates one of the most convincing filmic dystopias and asks several questions that relate to our present-day society. The film is James McTeigue’s “V for Vendetta” and its screenplay is an adaptation of Alan Moore/David Lloyd's graphic novel. Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry and John Hurt have been wonderfully cast and do a sterling job in playing out this tale of the fight for freedom and justice against cruelty and corruption.
There are elements of Orwell’s “1984”, Leroux’s “Phantom of the Opera” and superhero dramas such as “Batman” and “Spiderman” in this movie, but there is also an underlying serious political/social message in it. Its plot takes place in the future, when Britain is under totalitarian rule and is rife with prejudice against minorities, unfair punishments and the cries of tortured dissidents in captivity. In the mist of this nightmarish background, one man known as “V” dares to stand up to the government and is labelled by it as a “terrorist”. One night V rescues a young woman called Evey Hammond and an unlikely bond between the two emerges which results with Evey becoming V’s friend and helper.
V has a passion for justice, but he is also bitter and nurses his own personal hatred for the government as he was treated unjustly in the past. November the 5th is the day V and his followers will stand up to the government once and for all. The government is represented by Detective Finch who tries to track down V. Finch’s search leads him to discover much about V’s background, but also confronted by increasing evidence of tyranny and oppression, he begins to question whether or not he is on the right side.
Important questions arise upon viewing this film. Is V a hero or a terrorist? Are his actions justified or should the violence he espouses be condemned? “V for Vendetta” is a movie that looks scathingly at present-day politics. One cannot fail to see that President Bush is the model for Stutler. The news media and their coverage of V’s activities are inspired by on the propaganda machines at the disposal of today’s politicians, with V’s actions put on par with those of suicide bombers and underground train attacks. Does “terrorism” become “freedom-fighting”?
A totalitarian oppressor in power who utilises torture, unjust rule, (a reign of terror, in fact) is not likely to arouse our sympathies, whereas V, who is presented as the “terrorist” is much more likely to appear to be the “hero”. This is a disturbing and chilling film because it presents the reality of today and yesterday as the “Status quo” that our children will inherit in the future. If you haven’t seen this movie, I strongly recommend that you see it. It is dark, thought-provoking, and quite entertaining. I have not read the original graphic novel it is based on, and I realise that the film has created characters that are rather exaggerated, but the message is quite powerful and for me, well-conveyed in the film medium.