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Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Review: Byzantium - Vampires and blood, but really very little gore.

Title: Byzantium
Saoirse Ronan ... Eleanor
Gemma Arterton ... Clara
Sam Riley ... Darvell
Caleb Landry Jones ... Frank
Daniel Mays ... Noel
Jonny Lee Miller ... Ruthven
Eleanor and her mother Clara flee from their run down flat to an off season coastal resort town when the past starts to catch up with them. Clara support herself and her daughter the only way she knows how, using her body, but she meets Noel, the lonely owner of the one time grand, but now run-down guesthouse, Byzantium and she and Eleanor move in. Meanwhile Eleanor meets Frank and wants to reveal her long kept secret; she will be sixteen forever and she and Clara are over 200 years old, surviving on human blood. However, they have not run far enough as the past meets the present.

First of all I have to say this was not the film I thought it was going to be. From what I had seen about it I expected it to be more action packed. That being said I really enjoyed it. This is not a teen vampire film; it has a little teen angst, but it deals with very adult themes and is much more character driven than action or lots of plot or romance. I would call it a literary fiction vampire movie, rather than a genre vampire movie, although it has aspects of both. Now I don't usually like literary fiction type things, but this I thought had just enough action to keep me interested.

The characters are superb. There was not one actor in the film who didn't carry off their role, from Gemma Arterton as the practical and sometimes desperate Clara to Jonny Lee Miller as the arse of a man Ruthven, they all did superbly. There were a couple of characters that weren't fleshed out at all, but I still think they held up for what they were there for.

Let's start with Gemma as Clara. The first thing you see Clara doing in the film is lap dancing and that basically underlines her whole character. She uses her body to make money because that is all she knows and she will do anything to support her daughter.

Towards the beginning one of the other characters says something along the lines of 'All these years and you have learned nothing' and it seems sadly true in some ways. Clara survives and tries to be the best mother she can, but her life seems stuck in a cycle. Gemma brings all the desperation and raw love and pure survival instinct of Clara to the screen so very well. She was outstanding.

Then we have Saoirse as Eleanor, a much quieter character. Eleanor was brought up to be a good girl, to tell the truth and to be honest and pure. She is the opposite to her mother and she longs to be able to tell her secret.

She is in no way pathetic; she accepts who she is, but Saoirse shows us the longing in Eleanor so well. She tries to stay away from Frank because she knows she can never make connections, but fate brings them back together. It is only over time she succumbs to the temptation to tell him her secret.

Noel, Darvell, Frank and Ruthven are also well written and well acted characters. I connected with them all and wanted to know more about them, which is always a good sign.

The plot was also original and highly interesting. The vampire parts were different, especially the way they became vampires and the whole setup was beautifully done.

That being said, I do think the film suffered from errors in pacing. I was never bored, but there is a lot of the movie where nothing really happens.

The film starts with a bang, there is angst, tension and excitement, but that's only the first ten mins or so. Once Clara and Eleanor reach the seaside the film kind of just bobs along. There are small flashbacks, but really the audience isn't given huge amounts of information until the last twenty mins of the film. The film ends with as much of a bang as it began and I think they could make an absolutely stunning sequel, but I doubt they will.

The whole premise is that it's kind of from Eleanor's perspective and there are things Clara hasn't told her daughter so the audience don't get to know them either. Then at the end we have a point of view change and we get Clara's missing pieces and it's huge. I think there should have been more flashbacks and more detail in them about how Clara and Eleanor came to be. It would have given a little more tension without being thoroughly annoying and could have moved the middle section of the film along a bit.

The bad guys are menacing, but I think if we'd had a bit more about them they would have been more so and then the excitement would have been higher even if the reveal was still left to the end.

I would definitely watch Byzantium again and I will be purchasing the blu-ray when it eventually appears. This is a good film. I recommend it to vampire fans.


  1. I heard of this in a list I found somewhere of good vampire films but had no idea what it was about it. I might try to find it now, but will keep my expectations low since I hate movies that drag in the middle. Thanks for your review!

    1. I hesitate to say it drags because I wasn't bored out of my skull (which I was in the Hobbit even though I love LotR), it was just slightly off. It didn't feel balanced. I hope you enjoy it if you see it.


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