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What I Learnt From…Hot Fuzz

A new series where I talk about the writing lessons I’ve learnt from different books, films, plays, and more.


Despite mostly writing fantasy and horror, my favourite film is about an uptight policeman (or should that be policemanofficer?) exiled from the mean streets of London to a small Gloucestershire village where nothing much happens.


Apart from a series of increasingly nasty ‘accidents’.


Every time I watch Hot Fuzz I notice a new detail, a subtle bit of foreshadowing, an insight into character. When I recently watched it again, I noticed something that made me think differently about villains.


But to talk about that, I’ve got to talk about Nicholas Angel.


WARNING: HOT FUZZ SPOILERS AHEAD



Nicholas Angel’s biggest flaw is that he doesn’t know how to ‘switch off’ from his job as a police officer. He’s always on the lookout for evildoers, whether they’re killing an increasing number of people or stealing biscuits from Somerfields.


Who else has this flaw in Hot Fuzz?



As it turns out, the NWA.


The NWA members have an eerily similar mindset to Nicholas. They want nothing more than to win Village of the Year for the twentieth year running and, in their eyes, anyone can jeopardise that. Bad actors, loitering hoodies, even a gold spray-painted living statue. They can’t ‘switch off’ from the imperfections they see in Sandford any more than Nicholas can.


This is really brought home when Nicholas falls into the crypt under the castle. The NWA has been using it as a dumping ground for those they kill ‘for the greater good’ for twenty years. Some of whom Nicholas himself arrested.


It isn’t outright stated in the film, but in a way, Nicholas has been doing the NWA’s dirty work. He's a stickler for paperwork, ensuring every misdeed in the village, no matter how small, is fully recorded. By turning these villagers into dreaded crime statistics, he doomed them to early ends.


But while the NWA crack down (quite literally) on percieved misbehaviour for a Village of the Year trophy, Nicholas’ motives are more sympathetic. He tells Danny that he became a police officer because of ‘the clear sense of right and wrong’ he felt while pretending to be one as a child. He’s not out to make everyone conform, but to make sure they respect the law.


Admittedly, the Chief Inspector’s also trying to win the award in memory of his wife, so his motive is also sympathetic. However, after winning it twenty years in a row, you’d think his wife’s memory would be satisfied.


In the end, while Nicholas changes his ways to become less of a hard ass, the NWA end the film as the crime statistics they so desperately tried to avoid.


There is a clear parallel between Nicholas’ flaw and the behaviour of the NWA. However, there are three main differences:


·       The NWA’s behaviour is far more extreme.

·       Nicholas has a sympathetic – and believable – reason for his flaw.

·       Nicholas learns from his mistakes – the NWA do not.


I’ve since noticed this pattern in other stories, where hero and villain are more similar than the former would like to think. It creates a far more powerful character arc, as we can see through the villain where the hero will end up if they don’t change their ways. When they do end up changing, the ending becomes more satisfying.


If you’re wondering who the villain of your story is, ask yourself if there’s a character with a similar flaw to your hero. Are they worse at handling their flaw? Do they have this flaw for petty or cruel reasons? And do they fail to fix this flaw by the end of the story? Adding these elements to your bad guy could make them – and your hero – all that more compelling.

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