The lady is a vamp – Byzantium review


By Richard Haridy
September 3, 2013

Nearly 20 years after his all-star horror blockbuster Interview With The Vampire, director Neil Jordan returns to the genre with this boldly classical take on one of fiction’s ever-present tales. Byzantium is an elegant spin on vampire mythology seemingly designed to act as a reactionary statement against the trite, trivialised nature of the Twilight stories.

Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan are Clara and Eleanor, mother and daughter vampires who have been on the run from an all-male brotherhood for more than 200 years. After a member of the brotherhood tracks the girls down and is viscously decapitated by Clara, the duo retreats to a quiet seaside town. Here Clara starts up a brothel, her business of choice, while Eleanor strikes up a relationship with sickly local boy Frank (viscerally played by Caleb Landry Jones, who, after his great work in the recent Antiviral, seems to have become the go to guy for emaciated, unwell characters).


Moira Buffini’s screenplay, based on her own play, creates a rich yet simple mythological framework for her vampires that is light on supernatural elements. Apart from eternal life and the need to drink blood, the creatures here are modestly drawn with strong human characteristics. Familiar tropes inevitably abound but Jordan weaves a mesmerising sense of place and atmosphere into his film, giving the narrative a freshness and seriousness recently lacking the genre.

Arterton plays the curvaceous Clara with a satisfying sense of feminist entitlement as she battles the brotherhood who, historically, have denied women from becoming vampires, and Ronan is perfect as the steely-eyed Eleanor, an eternal 16-year-old with her own personal code of blood taking.

As the feature jumps backwards and forwards in time, and stories within stories coalesce, a striking tapestry is woven illustrating a world where eternal beings struggle with great change. Jordan’s vampiric universe is bloody, adult, and melancholy; a successful reminder that these stories need not be generic or juvenile. Culminating with a literal waterfall of blood, Byzantium is one of the most interesting and elegant vampire stories we’ve seen in the last decade, comfortably joining Let The Right One In, Trouble Every Day, and Thirst as strange and invaluable entries in an pleasingly immortal genre.


Byzantium will be available on Quickflix from September 4, 2013.

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