VOD film review: Byzantium
Andrew Jones | On 24, Sep 2013
Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Daniel Mays, Sam Riley, Caleb Landry Jones
Watch Byzantium online in the UK: iTunes / TalkTalk TV Store / Amazon Instant Video
Sexy vampires have been done to death, right? We’ve seen the Twilight franchise deal with safe, friendly biters, so maybe we should remember a time when they made folk bleed like nobody’s business. That’s what Interview With The Vampire director Neil Jordan clearly thinks as he returns to the undead with Byzantium, a mother-daughter drama starring Gemma Arterton as Clara, a vamp using her feminine charms to get by, and Saoirse Ronan as her daughter, Eleanor, a college girl with no one to hang out with.
The two run from London and head to the coast, where Arterton’s Clara quickly sparks a relationship with property owner Noel (Mays) and begins to open a brothel to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Ronan’s Eleanor gives college a try and finds a friendship with a young waiter, Frank (Jones). But when the blood trail leads some high-ranking vampires to the coast, the lives of both mother and daughter are put in peril.
Shot with an eye for making normality seem other-worldly, Jordan has made a terrific, slow-burning drama rather than a vampire thriller. This is a very quiet, focused film with a solid end-game that doesn’t leap to plot as much as it cares for the characters involved.
Arterton and Ronan’s mother-daughter relationship makes the film so much more than a simple story of girls on the run. Scenes involving Daniel Mays are often funny and lighten the mood, Tom Hollander’s appearance is sublime despite the lack of screen-time, while Landry Jones is lumbered with some over-wrought plot points and an accent that never settles.
Flashbacks to the past, including a particularly nasty Johnny Lee Miller, are impressively done, never feeling too different from the contemporary side of the film yet always appearing vintage and grandiose. This is a careful style of filmmaking, which suggests a steady hand that knows cinema well – and Jordan certainly does. Bringing in a strong dose of mundanity and subverting, rather than succumbing to the sexed-up nature of the genre, Byzantium does a great deal for adult vampire stories. It is visually striking, often surprising and, with two superb lead performances, may be one of the best British films of the year.