"Remember, remember the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot."
The film opens with a recitation of these words as a flashback sequence brings us to early 1600's England. Guy Fawkes is captured and executed for his attempt to blow up Parliament, a plan he hoped would restore Catholic rule to a Protestant throne.
In the near future, in Great Britain, a young woman named Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman
) is shown preparing to go out for the night while she watches a TV program hosted by Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam
), the proclaimed 'Voice of London' and a firm supporter of the fascist Norsefire Party that has replaced the old government. A mysterious figure dressed in black mirrors Evey's actions as he too watches the program from his own home. Prothero reveals that the government is based around religion and faith, reciting the mantra 'Strength through unity. Unity through faith'. Disease, violence and war (blamed primarily on the 'former' United States), and the fear and resentment of particular groups within the country including homosexuals, Muslims, and immigrants fueled the dramatic change and put the current leader, Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt
), in command.
Evey shuts off the program and heads out the door. As she walks into an alley, she is stopped by a few men who scold her for being out past curfew. When they become physical she pulls out a can of mace but they then reveal themselves to be members of the Norsefire secret police; 'Fingermen', and threaten Evey with sedition. She pleads for mercy before the men grab hold of her with the intent to rape her. The cloaked figure in black appears in the alley, wearing a Fawkes mask and hat, and quickly dispatches the Fingermen before introducing himself to Evey as 'V' (Hugo Weaving
). Showing a penchant for theatrics with an impressive play on words, he invites Evey to accompany him to a nearby rooftop to watch a performance of his. There, they have a clear view of The Old Bailey and V explains that he's there to commemorate a special day in history, one he intends to use as a symbol against the tyranny that has replaced Lady Justice with a false idol. As Big Ben tolls midnight, the fifth of November, V recites the centuries-old adage before conducting the finale to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture which plays over the loudspeakers throughout the streets of London. At the moment of crescendo, The Old Bailey explodes in a brilliant display. V laughs hysterically while Evey can only watch in horror.
Following the explosion, a congregation of Norsefire's elite meets in a secret conference with Adam Sutler, his face projected on a large screen. Included are Inspector Eric Finch (Stephen Rea
) of the police, Roger Dascomb (Ben Miles
) of television broadcasting, Brian Etheridge (Eddie Marsan
) of the auditory surveillance system, Peter Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith
) of the secret police, and Conrad Heyer (Guy Henry
) of the CCTV. Effectively and respectively, they make up the nose, mouth, ears, fingers, and eyes of the government, with Sutler sitting at the brain. Sutler decrees that the destruction of The Old Bailey is to be announced as an impromptu demolition project to make way for a new building while an investigation ensues to find out who the man in the Fawkes mask is. While V's remains a mystery, Evey's identity is quickly discovered thanks to video surveillance and Sutler demands her capture and interrogation.
The next morning Evey, working as an assistant within the broadcasting station, jokes with security guard Fred (Andy Rashleigh
) before delivering an unmarked package to the costume department. As her supervisor opens it and discovers black cloaks and Fawkes masks, V walks into the lobby of the station with a bomb strapped to his chest. Inspector Finch and his partner Dominic Stone (Rupert Graves
) hurry to the station in order to apprehend Evey while V disengages the elevators and forces most of the station to evacuate. As Evey nervously walks through the crowd towards the stairs, she catches sight of Finch and Dominic backed by supporting officers. She runs and hides in a nearby office while V orders the television crew to run a video on the emergency broadcast system, allowing his message to play on every TV in London. He addresses the general populous and introduces the fact that there is something wrong with the country. He encourages people to speak about the truths of cruelty and injustice and put away the fear that, he explains quite frankly, put them in this situation in the first place. V admits to blowing up the Old Bailey, explaining that he sought to end oppression where freedom should stand and invites all of London to join him in one year in front of Parliament where he promises to give them a fifth of November that will never be forgot.
As the broadcast ends, Dascomb grabs a small video camera and follows the police to the studio where they manage to break down the door. Heavy fog obscures the room and a dark figure runs towards the police. They shoot the man, who is wearing a Fawkes mask, but discover that he's an employee who explains that everyone in the room was given the costumes to wear. Finch orders everyone on the ground as he and the other officers go to the control room where V left his bomb wired to the control system. Dascomb attempts to disarm the bomb and is successful. Two men in Fawkes masks fall out of an elevator at the other end of the floor in front of two officers and the first figure screams that the other is 'him'. However, as one officer pulls off the mask to find it's Fred, the real V stands behind them and dispatches the officers with hidden knives. Fred passes out. V goes to leave but is stopped by Dominic who fails to see Evey sneak up behind him. She taps his shoulder and maces him before he blindly hits her with his gun, rendering her unconscious. V knocks Dominic out and stops to contemplate Evey.
A bruised but alive Dominic watches the surveillance tapes later on with Finch who watches as V looks at Evey. He comments that Evey is with him now, for better or worse. Meanwhile, footage of the police raid on the station is broadcast with claims that the terrorist was presumably shot and killed, much to the disbelief of one bespectacled girl (Billie Cook
Evey wakes up in a bed that is not her own and follows the sound of music coming from an old jukebox inside an enclosed foyer. V appears behind her and explains that, since she saved him but was unconscious, he made to decision to carry her to his lair, the Shadow Gallery, a place filled with various bits of art and culture that had previously been confiscated by Norsefire. Evey thanks him and asks to be released but V tells her she must stay here until his goal to destroy Parliament is completed in a year's time, otherwise she would be quickly captured and forced to give information about V. Naturally upset by her forced containment, Evey runs to her room. Much later, Evey concedes to leave her room and she finds V in the kitchen cooking eggs. He serves her and pours her tea while acknowledging his sincerity in the video he sent across London. He plans to destroy Parliament, not just to bring down a building, but to instill a very powerful idea in the British people and to impress that their government should be afraid of them, instead of the other way around.
Some time later we see Prothero showering in his home while watching one of his own broadcasts, repeating every word with vigor as he denounces the terrorist as a coward. V silently enters his loft with Evey's ID card and confronts Prothero as he comes out of the shower. When V addresses him as commander, Prothero suddenly recognizes him. Later, Finch and other officers investigate Prothero's loft where his body lies on the bathroom tiles, vomit beside him and a rose across his chest. During research, Finch finds out that Prothero was a very wealthy man well before his broadcasting show and used to be a commanding officer at Larkhill, a now abandoned government facility.
Back in the Shadow Gallery, after a play bout with a suit of armor, V invites Evey to watch The Count of Monte Cristo
with him, a film about love and revenge. After the film, Evey catches a glimpse of the news where the death of Prothero is announced. Suspicious, Evey questions V who admits that he killed Prothero and plans to kill others for justice, though Evey doesn't understand his motives. Shaken by this, she resolves to escape V's lair. To do so, she offers her assistance and some back story to her life. She explains that her parents both protested the government following the death of her little brother due to a deadly virus leak at his school. She was young but remembers the riots and protests and how her parents were taken from her in the middle of the night, black bags forced over their heads. She was sent to a juvenile detention center but never forgot the lessons her parents taught her. Inspired by this, V agrees to let her help and comes up with a plan for his next victim.
Bishop Anthony Lilliman (John Standing
) walks through his church and is met by a page who tells him his latest 'guest' has arrived but is older than expected. Lilliman walks to his room where Evey, dressed as a young girl, is waiting for him. While V scales the rooftops, Evey attempts to warn Lilliman of the danger he's in, but the bishop thinks that her story is part of an act and tries to have sex with her, forcing her down on the bed. She manages to kick him off her, resulting in a slew of un-priestly curses from him, before V enters the room. Evey apologizes and runs off before V assaults Lilliman, promising no mercy. A nearby surveillance van picks up the audio conversation between Lilliman and V and calls dispatch. Finch arrives shortly to find Lilliman dead, also having vomited and with a rose on his body, before Creedy arrives with his own special force. He puts Finch under surveillance, claiming that the extra precautions are needed since a couple of respected party members have been slain and argues that Finch put a hold on his investigations surrounding the terrorist's link with the victims.
Evey finds sanctuary with her boss, Gordon Deitritch (Stephen Fry
), whom she had been going to see the night she met V. He allows her to stay with him and, as a sign of trust, shows her a hidden room behind his wine cabinet. There, he reveals a copy of the Koran amid photographs of homoerotic scenes with muscular men. He admits to being, like her, a fugitive and explains that he hides his true self in plain sight on television and by entertaining young women like Evey within the privacy of his home. The next morning, he coincidentally makes Evey the same breakfast V served her while she was in the Shadow Gallery. Gordon finds the coincidence funny and quips that only the things that matter most should be considered with such humor.
Finch continues his investigation unabated with Dominic and focuses his attention on Larkhill, the records of which prove to be stubborn in revealing much information. He does find that Lilliman was also stationed there as a priest for enemies of the state that were confined there. Out of the list of high ranking officials left alive, Finch finds just one; a woman who worked as a chemist, although her name is unavailable. He then goes to see a coroner named Delia Surridge (Sinéad Cusack
) and presents her with the flower that he found on Lilliman. Delia recognizes the flower as a scarlet carson, thought to be extinct, but admits that she can't offer any other information. When Finch returns to headquarters, Dominic informs him that he's found out who the mystery woman is; Delia. Shocked, having just seen her, Finch leaves, hoping he's not too late.
Delia wakes in her bed and speaks to the shadows in her room, asking if he's come to kill her. V appears and responds yes, to Delia's relief. She converses with V, admitting fault in what happened to him but defending her intentions, which were for the best. Though V tells her he cannot allow her to live, he reveals to have given her a quick injection while she slept, providing an easy and painless death. Delia apologizes and succumbs peacefully moments before Finch arrives to find her in bed with a scarlet carson in her hand and a small red notebook on her bedside table.
Finch presents the notebook to Sutler who dismisses the contents as either propaganda written by the terrorist or the ravings of a delusional ex-party member. Sutler advises Finch to forget about the journal, but Finch can't help but recall what he read. The notebook was a diary of Delia's and chronicled her start at Larkhill 20 years prior as a medicinal chemist. She writes how she tested virulent drugs on vagrants and deviants of society who she found herself despising because of their pathetic disposition. She mentioned working alongside both Prothero and Lilliman. All tests on subjects proved fatal except in the case of one man who resided in room five. In his case, though he had a near complete loss of memory, he developed quick reflexes and strength. On November fifth, the laboratory where she worked exploded violently and, as she escaped the compound, saw the man from room five, horribly burnt and roaring in anger.
Evey, meanwhile, shares an evening with Gordon as he shows her the premiere of a new show he wrote that morning and uncensored by the department. She gulps her champagne as she watches Gordon welcome Chancellor Sutler (an actor impersonator, as the real Sutler watches from his own home) to his studio while armed soldiers hold shotguns towards the audience, prompting them to applaud. Sutler is offered a glass of warm milk in reference to the real Sutler's habit of drinking one every night (we see this is indeed true). A hilarious skit ensues as an actor dressed as V ties Sutler's shoelaces together while he calmly assures everyone that the terrorist has been neutralized. Upon discovering V trying to blend in the studio band, Sutler stumbles on his feet and a comedic chase progresses across the stage to the sound of Yakety Sax. Finally, Sutler grabs hold of V and removes his mask to reveal another Sutler copy who says that he's the real one. They both order the soldiers to open fire and are shot down while the audience laughs and the real Sutler breaks his glass in fury.
While Evey is worried that Gordon will face severe repercussions, he is optimistic and tells her not to fret. However, that night, Evey awakes to glass breaking as Gordon rushes into her room, telling her to hide. She gets under her bed (mirroring the scenario when her parents were taken from her) as the bedroom door is broken down. Creedy enters with soldiers and they beat and restrain Gordon, placing a black bag over his head and taking him away. Evey manages to climb out the window down to the back yard, but she is apprehended and black-bagged just before she can escape. When the bag is removed, she finds herself in an interrogation room with a government official hidden in darkness asking her about the location of the terrorist. When she is unable to answer, she is 'processed'. Her head is shaven and she is tortured and given rotten food while kept in a small cell. One day, she hears a rustle from inside one of the side walls and discovers a small note written on toilet paper. She uses the light coming from under the door to read the note from a woman named Valerie who tells a brief story of her life and how she wound up confined. Valerie (young - Imogen Poots
older - Natasha Wightman
) describes how she first fell in love with a girl in her class named Sarah (Laura Greenwood
) and when she was disowned by her parents for being a lesbian. She met the love of her life, Ruth (Mary Stockley
), while acting in a film and they moved to London together as America's war worsened and the government began to change. Fear and persecution against anyone unworthy in Sutler's mind, including homosexuals and Muslims, led to their detainment. Ruth was taken away shortly before Valerie was. She ends her note by offering some solace in the fact that, while her life may be taken, she will still retain her integrity as a human being and tells the reader that, though she does not know them, she loves them.
Tearfully inspired, Evey is once again brought to the interrogation room where she refuses to cooperate, despite threats of death. She is returned to her cell to await execution. An official arrives and asks Evey to give just one bit of information to save her life, but Evey says she'd rather die. The man then tells her that she now has no fear and is completely free before leaving. Confused, Evey gets to her feet and walks out the open door. She goes down a corridor and turns a corner to see that she is in none other than the Shadow Gallery. V appears before her and explains that he was the one to bring her here and that Gordon was unfortunately executed once the police found the hidden room behind the wine cabinet. V tells her that, while her imprisonment was a farce, it was to bring out in Evey what V experienced; to allow her to let go of fear and hate and realize that there's something more important than even her life. Evey angrily retorts, claiming the inability to feel anything anymore and collapses to the ground, short of breath. V catches her and comforts her, asking her to remember the atrocities committed against her and her family and recall what she felt when she said she'd rather die than give in. But Evey begs to be let outside, feeling faint. V takes her to the roof where it is raining. Before he can cover her with a blanket, Evey steps out into the rain and raises her arms, laughing in a moment of pure release, just as V once did.
Back in the Gallery, Evey tells V that she can no longer stay with him and, now that she fears nothing, will return to the outside world to take her chances. She motions to give V the note she found, thinking he wrote it, but he shows her a shrine surrounded by scarlet carsons with Valerie's photo above it. He tells Evey that the note was delivered to him as it was to her and that Valerie died in Larkhill where he was also kept. He maintains his vindication that what was done to him must be repaid. Evey approaches V and thanks him before agreeing to his request to visit one last time before the fifth. She then leaves. V returns to his room and removes his mask, throwing it against the vanity mirror and breaking down in tears.
At an elite meeting with the party members, Sutler reminds them that their inadequacies are mounting, especially those of Creedy, in the attempt to apprehend and stop the terrorist. He issues stricter curfews and harsher surveillance on civilians who, he is angered to hear, converse regularly about the terrorist and how they believe he is still alive.
Finch is contacted by a mysterious man named William Rookwood who promises to give him invaluable information regarding his investigation. Intrigued and having come to his own predispositions about the shady goings on of the government, Finch goes out to meet him in a secluded lot. Rookwood tells him of the origins of Adam Sutler who came into his own by starting his own party that gained recognition by divulging in tests for biological weapons in the name of national security. From the blood of one of their victims (namely, V, which explains his determination for retribution; he feels to blame) they were able to procure a deadly virus that they secretly released, with strategic precision, within their own country; inside a school, a tube station, and a water-treatment plant for maximum effect. Naturally, when the public panicked and went in search of a savior, the very party that released the virus is the one to magically provide a cure. In return, they gained power, using fear and scapegoats out of political extremists to justify their cause and to blame the initial virus on. Rookwood then advises Finch to put surveillance on Creedy so that Rookwood may feel confident to show himself again and prove all he's said to the inspector. Finch hesitantly agrees. However, he is infuriated later when he discovers that the character of Rookwood has actually been dead quite some time; it was V in disguise all along. Finch goes back to his previous investigation while Creedy remains under supervision.
V visits Creedy in his home, playing loud music so that their conversation cannot be taped and offers Creedy a proposition. He tells him that, once he destroys Parliament, Sutler will have no use for Creedy and will offer him up as someone to blame. If Creedy gives Sutler to V, Creedy's position will be suddenly promoted and he will have V to deal with as he chooses.
As the fifth of November nears, thousands of crates are delivered throughout London, including to Finch. He opens the box to discover a costume with a black cloak, hat, and Fawkes mask. The little bespectacled girl seen earlier proudly wears her costume on the streets but Sutler decrees that anyone seen wearing them will be arrested on site. Finch speaks with Dominic in private, speculating that what follows will be what V wanted all along; complete and utter chaos. Everything is part of a plan; a grand scheme that was put into effect before the government had even fully formed, even before Larkhill. And when someone does something stupid, everything will fall apart. This speculation is metaphorically shown as die falling into place within a large arrangement that V sets up on the floor of his gallery, all while citizens across London begin to riot. The bespectacled girl is shot down by a fingerman in her costume and, though he displays his Norsefire badge to enraged adults, he is mercilessly beaten.
The Norsefire party convenes for the last time in front of Sutler where he fumes over their inability to capture the terrorist. He proclaims that, should anything happen to Parliament, the only thing that will change will be that he reads Creedy's resignation the following morning instead of the newspaper. He then demands, amid claims that record arrests are being made, that the citizens of the nation need to be reminded of why they need the government.
Evey returns to the Shadow Gallery on the eve of the fifth where V is musing over his music. He admits that he never expected to see her again and asks her to dance. She asks to see his face, since she still knows nearly nothing about him, but he affirms that the face he has is not who he really is. He then says he has something to give her and leads her out of the gallery to an abandoned subway tunne beneath the building. There sits a train filled with explosives which V says will course along its track straight to Parliament, as long as Evey decides it should. V says that the decision to move forward should be the people's to make, not his. He will, meanwhile, go meet his fate. Evey begs him to stay, kissing him, but he solemnly refuses and disappears down the tunnel.
While V heads to a dark section underground to meet Creedy with his most trusted soldiers, Sutler gives a speech on the emergency broadcast system throughout London, urging people to stay in their homes and vowing swift justice against anyone caught outside past curfew. However, each room and venue the speech plays to is void of an audience. V appears to Creedy who has held his end of the bargain; Sutler, bound and black-bagged on his knees. V places a scarlet carson in Sutler's lapel before Creedy shoots him in the head. Creedy then demands that V remove his mask. When V refuses, Creedy orders his men to open fire. V is hit by a barrage of bullets but composes himself. He rushes forward with his knives, killing each soldier before they can reload. Creedy shoots V multiple times, wondering aloud why he won't die, before V tells him that beneath his mask is more than flesh; "there's an idea, and ideas are bullet-proof". V puts his hands around Creedy's neck and breaks it swiftly before staggering back down the tunnel. He removes a large metal chest plate, having saved himself from immediate death, but continues to bleed profusely from other wounds.
Evey waits for him back by the train, contemplating what he told her, as he returns, collapsing to the ground. She takes him in her arms and he tells her that he 'is done and finished' before confessing to having fallen in love with her after so many years of living with nothing but revenge as the reason for his existence. Evey tells him she doesn't want him to die, to which he says that that's the most beautiful thing she could have given him, before dying.
Meanwhile, armed guards surround Parliament but cannot get in touch with anyone of authority. Soon, they see a massive mob of people walking towards them, all clad in Fawkes costumes. Without a voice to give orders, they are forced to put down their weapons and allow the people to walk past them. Finch finds his way into the subway and discovers Evey at the controls to the train. She had placed V on a bench inside the train, arms crossed and covered in roses. She tells Finch that the country needs more than a building now; it needs hope, as she pulls the lever and steps out of the train. As the car moves forward, she leads Finch to the roof where they have a clear view of Parliament. In front of them, and all the people convened, Parliament explodes in a radiant display to Tchaikovsky's Overture. Finch asks who V was. Evey says that he was her brother, father, mother, and friend. "He was you, and he was me. He was all of us", setting in her words that V represented the whole country, finally strong enough to take back its freedom. The citizens in front of Parliament remove their masks, revealing Gordon, Ruth, Valerie, the bespectacled girl, and all those who dreamed of freedom and finally received it.