Byzantium (2013) – Review

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No, not the Greek city founded in the 7th century BC (thanks Wiki), but instead, a grubby and now mostly defunct hotel in an unnamed coastal town that becomes home to a couple of generation-leaping sucrients (posh name for ‘Vampire’, we are led to believe) after they are forced to leave their previous residence after a spot of bother with a ‘client’ and his only recently portable and detachable head.
Starring the formidable British acting talents of Gemma Arterton and Saoirse (went to check it and found I’d spelt it right first time!)Ronan, this story from Moira Buffini and directed by the thinking man’s’ Vampire aficionado Neil Jordan (Interview With The Vampire, no less), this has clout even before the first lapdance.
Spanning a couple of hundred years in the lives of these two mysterious women, we meet them in a modern day setting, one turning tricks, writhing and gyrating for the pleasure of men (Arterton, thankfully, as watching Ronan do this would have felt a little bit wrong, so three cheers for casting) and the other, a quieter, altogether more sedate (and seemingly younger), counterpart, with a penchant for playing piano,  writing in a diary that never contains content older than a day and looking like the misunderstood teenager she most probably was at some point, many, many moons ago.
Drip fed a plot, the story is an interesting one, even if it is sometimes frustratingly delivered. The back story of these two individuals is played out in recanting to others or to each other and an intriguing life, not unlike Jordan’s approach to Anne Rice’s work in IWTV, is laid out before the viewer, enabling their engagement more wholly over the period of its near two hour running time.
How you like your vampires will go some way, however, to understanding just how much enjoyment you will garner from this project. If you like it sparkly and layered in romance, then you’re not likely to find too much comfort in the never-ending immortality here. This is, as you might expect, more Interview With The Vampire than Twilight, and the audience here are less likely to put a poster of its star up on their bedroom wall, as the wife might not like it.
What you do get is a well-constructed, very British feeling action thriller that is less gothic than you might expect and/or want. Yes, these characters are immortal, but only in the telling of their history do you get a sense of the timeless supernatural. The majority of the film is played out in the present day, only dipping its toe into the folklore where necessary, doubtless to abate those that may scoff at the telling of a modern day tale.
The two leads, Arterton and Ronan are both very watchable in their own ways also. Arterton’s Clara is hardened and cynical, not to mention deadly and loving it, from hundreds of years of only knowing how to earn her keep by lying on her back. Her daughter, Eleanor (Ronan), however is locked in the body of a teenager and it is easy to forget, either on purpose or by accident, that she has a very old head on seemingly young shoulders. There are hints at her true self with a skill on the piano that belies her apparent age and her dalliance with a young man that you wouldn’t normally expect an old woman of two hundred years old to have the time or patience for.
Unlike Rice’s Interview With The Vampire, there is little time for dwelling on the plight of our lead s here. Where Rice would spend an inordinate amount of time informing her readers about the suffering that comes with immortality, despite its apparent benefits, Buffini doesn’t bother with such meandering platitudes. There are suggestions from Eleanor about her unhappiness in the position she finds herself, but this is not with regard to her inability to die. It seems that at no point are we ever really meant to feel sorry for Clara and Eleanor and nor do we.
Overall, it’s a perfectly acceptable telling of a now familiar tale, with a couple of addendums thrown in to make it more than just another vampire movie. Well acted and handsome throughout, Jordan has come up trumps again with his second century spanning adventure with the undead its featured players. It’s no Interview With The Vampire, but given the choice between this and the likes of Twilight, this is head and shoulders a more satisfying and intriguing concept.

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