"“The sort of film you'd hope to see Tim Burton making nowadays...”"
Vampires were cool, once. Before Stephanie Meyer popped up and decided to immortalise them as teenage heartthrob romantics in the Twilight franchise, diverting the target audience somewhat and tarnishing the vampire mythology by recruiting a hardcore adolescent audience. Well now Neil Jordan – who has already achieved great success in the aforementioned department with his Oscar nominated 1994 hit Interview with the Vampire, returns waving two fingers in the air with his latest, and inexplicably cool picture Byzantium.
Clara (Gemma Arteton) and her daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) are forced to leave the big city following a gruesome murder of which the former was the perpetrator, as the pair seek refuge in a small coastal town, with the intentions of starting anew. Upon arrival Clara uses her good lucks and unwavering charm to manipulate the lonely Noel (Daniel Mays) into letting them stay at his abandoned guesthouse, Byzantium. The pair are hiding a rather unsavoury secret – as they are in fact over 200 years old, and survive on human blood, and when Eleanor lets her secret slip to local waiter Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a foray of unanswered questions come to the forefront, as Clara and her daughter must decide what the future holds for two insatiable vampires living amongst ordinary, incredulous human beings as their deathly secret slowly starts to spread...
At the heart of Byzantium is a story of a (sort of) young girl, trying to find her feet following a lifetime in the shadow of her adventurous and vindictive mother, in what, in a sense, is a conventional small town drama. However Jordan manages to up the scale of the piece, as this intimate tale is made to feel epic and dramatic. Both of our leads are fantastic, particularly the beguiling Arteton who is like a contemporary, female version of the Artful Dodger. She has a sensual charisma, and while she is seducing the various men in the piece, the viewer also finds themselves cast under her bewitching spell. She's been selling her body for 200 years. That's a hell of a lot of sex. Meanwhile, Ronan also impresses, as she has the ability to captivate the viewer doing very little, with an on-screen presence that has already cemented her status as one of the most promising young actresses in world cinema.
There is a brilliant edgy atmosphere to Byzantium, as Jordan manages to bring together both the supernaturalism and the gritty realism together to great effect, as we cut between the murky lives of a handful of lost souls, with the fantastical, elaborate sequences, making for a dark and dangerous tale. Considering we are following interlinking narratives cast between 200 years, the picture remains easy to follow. The only thing that is absolutely incomprehensible, is Landry Jones accent. I'm going to take a punt and say the west coast of England, but it could well be South African. Or maybe even Australian? God knows.
There are a few plot points that don't quite add up, but given the film is following two women who have a combined age of 400 and suck blood to get by, the filmmakers can be forgiven for not following protocol. Nonetheless, Byzantium is the sort of film you'd hope to see Tim Burton making nowadays, but alas he isn't, and instead we have a worthy British production to be proud of, while using it's Britishness to it's advantage, as a film that is similar, to an extent, to London to Brighton. Just with added vampires, that's all.