Review: Byzantium / Cert: 15 / Director: Neil Jordan / Screenplay: Moira Buffini / Starring: Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Jonny Lee Miller, Caleb Landry-Jones / Release Date: May 3rd
Byzantium is Neil Jordan’s return to the world of the undead twenty years after he directed Interview with the Vampire, and it plays out very much like a feminist inversion of that film. Jordan is incapable of making anything less than an interesting picture and even oddities like In Dreams and The Butcher Boy have much to recommend in them. Byzantium is definitely an ‘interesting’ film but doesn’t quite work.
We follow Clara (Arterton), who works as a prostitute, and her introverted daughter Eleanor (Ronan) as they flee London and set up shop in Brighton with the intention of starting a brothel. In flashback we learn how Clara was forced into prostitution at a young age and how her daughter was initially taken away from her. Clara has discovered the key to eternal life and uses the same power to get her daughter back, which brings them to the attention of an ancient brotherhood who want them dead. Meanwhile, back in modern times Eleanor gets close to a local, terminally ill lad and the brotherhood closes in once more.
Above all else Byzantium is a pretty unique take on the vampire myth. These creatures have some of the tropes and characteristics we all know and love but more noticeably the complete absence of some really big ones. The way in which these beings are created is also weird and creepy and not at all what is expected. The script by Moira Buffini (based on her play) certainly holds the interest and for most of the running time you are on the edge of your seat.
However Byzantium is fatally flawed by performances that are all over the map. Arterton is good but her performance borders on being Kat Slater from EastEnders, and Ronan is her usually mesmeric self. Sadly Jonny Lee Miller and Caleb Landry-Jones feel like they are in a different film entirely, with Landry-Jones being especially awful. The film drags between the second and final act when it becomes concerned with the love story between Ronan and Landry-Jones’ character and because of his awfulness, it just doesn’t work. Jordan still has an eye for a striking image though and the waterfalls of blood on a remote island are breathtaking on the big screen.
Byzantium is a film that is not as bad as it could have been and not as good as it should have been but somewhere in the middle. It’s still a fascinating entry in one of the more interesting modern filmographies and offers much to enjoy.
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10