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
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.