An intelligent and moody thriller
Byzantium (15, 118 min) Horror/Drama/Romance. Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Caleb Landry Jones, Daniel Mays, Tom Hollander, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller. Director: Neil Jordan.
Long before Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart sank their pearly whites into The Twilight Saga, British director Neil Jordan was entertaining A-list bloodsuckers on the big screen.
Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles paired Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as fanged fiends whose fortunes entwined in rivers of crimson on the streets of New Orleans.
Almost 20 years later, Jordan plants a stake back in the genre with Byzantium, an intelligent and moody thriller adapted by Moira Buffini from her own stage play, which largely avoids the campy conventions we have come to expect from the creatures of the night.
And luminous young actress Saoirse Ronan holds our attention with her tortured and mournful glances that conjure memories of Tomas Alfredson’s coming-of-age story Let The Right One.
Ballsy single mother Clara Webb (Gemma Arterton) arrives in a rundown seaside resort with her daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) in tow.
In order to make ends meet, Clara sells her body to residents and holidaymakers, earning just enough to keep the pair off the streets.
Every now and then, she sinks her teeth into an unsuspecting punter and we discover, in flashback, that Clara is in fact a vampire who was much abused in the 19th century by a libidinous captain (Jonny Lee Miller) and has wrought revenge on mankind ever since.
Eleanor is her equally bloodthirsty ward, who refuses to abide by the ancient code.
The vampires hit the jackpot when they meet a lonely misfit (Daniel Mays) who lives in the decrepit Byzantium guest house, which would make a perfect base of operations for Clara’s illicit operations.
So while the older bloodsucker recruits local girls from the streets, Eleanor drifts around the resort, catching the eye of a young waiter, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), who is waging a long, protracted battle with leukaemia.
When Darvell (Sam Riley), a Machiavellian face from Clara’s past, turns up at the guest house, battle lines are drawn.
Byzantium is a slow burn, with occasional explosions of graphic violence when Clara or Eleanor sate their bloodlust.
The fractured chronology hampers dramatic momentum but Jordan navigates a clear path between past and present, drawing us into his heroines’ unusual predicament.
Ronan is spellbinding, conveying most of her emotions through her eyes, while Arterton takes the flashier, brassier role as vengeful protector.
Pace quickens in the blazing final act as fates collide on the coast and everything – except for two centuries of sin – is washed away.
Star rating 6