Mother and daughter vampire team Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) have always been together, and they have always had to be secretive. Things change, however, when Eleanor finds someone she can confide in and the past catches up with Clara.
It is interesting that Neil Jordan has returned to the vampire story after so much time away, but his return is a welcome one, but his cast is hit and miss. Saoirse Ronan is just otherworldly enough to capture the essence of a girl who has been 16 for 200 years and longs to be able to tell the truth to someone who would believe her. Ronan’s gaze is electric and, although the story may twist out of her grasp slightly, she is rightfully the focus of the film.
Gemma Arterton fares less well as Clara. Here is a woman who is 200 years old, but seems to have learned nothing, like drinking someone’s blood in broad daylight is a bad idea, as is setting up a brothel in a run down hotel. Arterton’s accent grates, and she never seems to fully inhabit Clara, but she looks great in a corset… So there’s that. Caleb Landry Jones carries on his streak of playing the weird character with his turn as Frank. Although Frank’s storyline may be obvious, Landry Jones is charming and graceful in the role, proving that Antiviral was no fluke.
Based in a stage play, Byzantium forms it’s own rules with regard to vampire mythology – no fangs and the vamps are able to go for a stroll in sunlight – some of the atmosphere we have come to expect from Jordan films is definitely lacking. This may be because Jordan is clearly poking fun at himself or it could be because the story and script are ever so slightly garbled. What should be a simple story that hinges on the characters rambles through time periods and there are elements of the vampire mythology that are never fully explained. That said, the visuals are lovely in parts and, when it does find it’s footing, the film finds beauty and atmosphere in the strangest of places. Jordan handles the scenes in the past incredibly well, but stumbles in the present, as was the case with Interview. Could it be, like Clara, Jordan has learned nothing over the years? Or is he making a statement that vampires are creatures of legend and should probably remain in a more superstitious age?
It would be difficult to talk about the film without talking about Jordan’s previous work, and in a way Byzantium forms an odd companion piece to Interview with the Vampire. There are moments when the film feels similar to Interview in tone and style, but there is so much different to allow it to stand apart. Setting two women at the heart of the story, two women who are incredibly similar to Louis and Lestat, cannot be coincidence, but the mythology that surrounds the pair and their actions in the present, are completely different. Thankfully, even though there is a love story at the centre of Byzantium, Twilight this ain’t.
In all, Byzantium tries to stand up to the might of Interview with the Vampire, and fails. Feeling like Interview’s little sister is not a crime, but strong performances from Landry Jones and Ronan are not enough to make up for a messy and slight film.