Byzantium (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner31/05/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 118 mins

Neil Jordan's eagerly-awaited return to the vampire genre is an inventive, beautifully shot and emotionally engaging horror/thriller with a superb script and a pair of excellent performances from Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan.

What's it all about?
Directed by Neil Jordan and written by Moira Buffini (who adapted her own 2008 young adult play A Vampire Story), Byzantium opens with 200 year old vampire Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her forever sixteen year old daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) fleeing a small town after a lingerie-clad Clara garottes a mysterious man who was hunting them. They arrive in a seaside resort town, where Clara seduces the weedy owner (Daniel Mays) of a rundown boarding house (named Byzantium) and convinces him to let her turn its empty rooms into a brothel.

Meanwhile, Eleanor (who only feeds on the terminally ill or dying) falls in love with sickly teenager Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) and considers leaving her life with Clara. At the same time, she writes down the story of how they came to be vampires in the 1800s, revealing that an ancient vampire order named The Pointed Nails of Justice are after them for violating vampire code and becoming female vampires.

The Good
Arterton and Ronan deliver terrific performances as Clara and Eleanor, with each actress bringing intriguingly contrasting energies to their roles: Ronan still, moody and introspective and Arterton fierce, passionate and capable of bloody violence. As such, their powerfully emotional central relationship forms the heart of the film, as we strongly feel Clara's willingness to do anything to protect her daughter, set against the potential heartbreak of Eleanor yearning for a different life.

The superb script pulls off a number of inventive twists on traditional vampire mythology, most notably the ban on female vampires and a cave on an island where all vampires are created, in a mysterious ritual involving a doppelganger, a cloud of bats and a waterfall of blood. The film also has a lot of fun with the usual vampire genre tropes; for example, instead of fangs, Eleanor has a single pointy (and retractable) fingernail, but the convention of them having to be invited into someone's house survives, allowing for a quietly amusing scene when they first enter Byzantium.

The Great
The film is beautifully shot throughout, with Sean Bobbit's lush cinematography making full use of both the seaside locations and the vivid colours of the production design (Eleanor's bright red coat and so on) and creating some powerfully striking imagery, such as the shot of Clara under the waterfall of blood. Similarly, if you're a fan of Jordan's work, there's a certain amount of fun to be had in ticking off the various allusions to (and echoes of) his previous films – there's even a nod to The Company of Wolves.

Worth seeing?
Byzantium is a hugely enjoyable, inventively written and gorgeously shot vampire thriller anchored by a pair of excellent performances from Arterton and Ronan. Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

Byzantium (15)
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Content updated: 22/03/2019 03:16

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