[FILM] Byzantium

Byzantium Poster

There was no doubt in my mind that I would eventually watch this film. For two reasons. The first being the massive Irish connections and the second being vampires. I like vampires. And I’m not talking the teen sparkly angst kind, I’m talking the sexy, dangerous and highly physical kind.

Okay, there were actually three reasons I wanted to watch it. ;)

Okay, there were actually three reasons I wanted to watch it. ;)

Based on a play by Moira Buffini, Byzantium was adapted for screen by the same author and directed by Sligo Irishman Neil Jordan (Interview With A Vampire, The Crying Game). The story follows Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) as they flee a brothership who are intent on ending their supposedly “accidental” existence.

While they’re on the run Eleanor begins to narrate their tale, and slowly throughout the course of this two hour film their two hundred year old story unravels, intricately woven with the strands of the modern, current account. I’m struck by the beauty of the language and the effortless way in which Ronan injects so much implied emotion into her voice, but yet it doesn’t falter, almost making us thoroughly believe in Eleanor’s acceptance of her lonely and cold life. Sometimes I wish we still spoke in such a manner. A pox upon the modern evolution of language!

"I write of what I cannot speak, the truth. I write all I know of it, then I throw that pages to the wind. Maybe the birds can read it."

“I write of what I cannot speak – the truth. I write all I know of it, then I throw the pages to the wind. Maybe the birds can read it.”

As with all Jordan films, Byzantium was atmospheric, with hidden tension and a constant feeling of inevitability palpable throughout. The coastal setting provided starkly grey imagery and when interspersed with much ruby red blood was often a contrast that treated the eyes.

The stand out aspect of this film for me though was most definitely the performances. The cast, in its entirety, were truly excellent, with Arterton and Ronan giving exceptional performances as Clara and Eleanor. I found their differences delicious; Clara’s troubled past making her hardened, dangerous and with character elements that almost made her my perfect idea of what a vampire should be, and Eleanor a polar opposite as she struggles with her guilt and her secrets, her Angel of Death persona coming to the fore as she feeds only upon those who give consent and are ready to be taken. Both, when presented with their personal challenges are intermittently highly relatable. At times you’ll find yourself agreeing with Eleanor’s ethos, and at others you’ll find yourself completely understanding Clara’s more extreme methods and approach to safeguarding their futures. Regardless of who you find yourself more attached to, one theme is obviously paramount, and that is the unconditional, confounding love a mother will always feel for her daughter.

It isn’t just our two female leads who impressed me though, as mentioned above the entire cast gave great performances for Jordan. Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary) as the despicable Ruthven plays his villainous role to perfection and Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class, Friday Night Lights) as the sickly and strange Frank was a lovely, but not story encompassing love interest for Eleanor.

I may have waxed lyrical about Byzantium thus far, but it is not without its problems. I recall checking the time when I was about an hour in because I felt as though the film had barely started to get going and was worried that the pacing would mean a rushed, hurried conclusion. Proceedings kicked up a notch following this though, and the second half of the film is full of reveals. I often felt as though this could be two separate movies that had been sliced up and spliced together by mistake. There was the hard-hitting English drama about the psychological and sexual abuse of young women, and the darkly sexy, original take on a unique brand of soucriant. Sometimes they work together in this movie, sometimes they don’t.

Could you stop bleeding for a sec? I'm trying to text.

Could you stop bleeding for a sec? I’m trying to text.

There were one or two gaping plot-holes and several aspects of this film that didn’t make much sense. Upon deeper thought the following morning though, I found myself willing and able to explain away most of these inconsistencies by considering the characterisation and the origin of the piece. For anyone looking for Interview With A Vampire Part Deux, you won’t find it in Byzantium. The majority of the reviews I’ve read have it ranked for mid-table obscurity but I enjoyed it nonetheless. 

I found it was the characters, above the premise or anything else that kept my attention locked in for the duration. Some may be disappointed with Byzantium, because it doesn’t seem to fit into any modern mold, but if you’re anything like me and have become frustrated with recent takes on the vampire horror genre then you will appreciate this atypical offering.

IMDB Rating: 6.5
Do I agree?: Solid 7 from yours truly.

V Does DVD Releases (October) 1/13.

Categories: Film, Review

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41 replies

  1. Excellent review, and another positive one arguing its reason for being. I look forward to getting to it, having been turned on by Let the Right One In.


    • It’s not quite at Let The Right One In standard (in my opinion), but it is definitely worth a watch. I’ll look forward to your review when you do get a chance to see it. Thanks Tom, always good to hear from you. :)


  2. I look forward to one day watching this myself too!


  3. Byzantium only had a limited release in the US and I missed it. I’ll probably watch it on DVD when it becomes available. An outstanding review that has me primed to sink my teeth into the movie!


  4. I’ve never heard of this movie before but i’ll most definitely check it out :]


  5. great review. never had heard of this movie so thank you madame! cool movie poster too


    • Thanks Matt! Yes I love that movie poster, it really drew me in. There was an alternative for another region but that one was my fav of the two.

      How are things with your good self?


      • My good self is quite good thank you very much!!! :P
        How are things with your GREAT self? (see how I 1-up’ed you there! ooooooooooo don’t mess with me mama!!!)
        Lots of info & reviews coming out on the PS4 and Xbox One in the coming days and weeks, so I’m very excited to be hearing about that. Are you going to be getting a Next-Gen console?
        I’ll wait until Kingdom Hearts 3 drops before I get my PS4. ARROW is on in about 20 mins :) Im taking a study break!


        • I’m thinking I’ll go with the Xbox One, but I’ve nothing ordered yet! I won’t get to watch Arrow until tomorrow due to work and other time consuming crap, I hate having to wait!


  6. Hmmm…I might need to check this out!


      • Just finished watching it a couple of hours ago…I can’t say I liked it, but I didn’t dislike it either, once things started getting into motion the film became very interesting, but it takes a damn lot of time to get there, in other words, I hated the pacing on the film…

        While I do praise the acting, and Saoirse Ronan’s eyes entranced me, I disliked all characters in the film…Eleanor herself came off as the female version of the very tired “Angst-ridden Vampire” and “Forever a teen vampire” tropes, which I thoroughly dislike, even though I liked that Eidetic memory detail about her, remembering EVERYTHING. Having said so, I found her to be an infinitely better developed character than Clara

        Even if I’m a vampire purist, I LOVE the mythology of the film and how Vampires are made is just amazing, never actually going into details on how stuff works, leaving much to your imagination.

        By the end of the film, I didn’t have the feeling of “this is the end of the story”, but instead, as a whole, the film felt more like a prologue for things to come, and if I’m right, I will be checking out whatever sequel they crank out.

        Loved your review, I’ll be reblogging it as soon as I’m done with the rest of the films on my list hahahaha


        • I don’t know why I’m so surprised that you didn’t like it! I think though that this one might be a tough one to love. I can completely see how it would divide so many people. I’ve seen Byzantium on people’s worst of 2013 lists, and I’ve seen it on best of 2013 lists too. It’s a strange one.

          The pacing, yes, that was a problem initially for me too. I think I touched on it in the review, but I was about an hour in and I was shaking my head with confusion, wondering where the hell this was going to go and how it was going to finish up in an acceptably climactic fashion. Things got moving from there though, and a lot of the time, like I said, it felt like it was two different films.

          Yes, Ronan’s character. Both annoying and very angsty. I found the total differences between her character and Arterton’s to be very refreshing. I think it’s hard not to have some manner of angst in a movie about a vampire’s long life though, it was dealt with in Interview With A Vampire, and it’ll probably always be dealt with in some manner in other vampire flicks to come. As much as we’d like to see it, I guess they can’t all be violent, sadistic and lustful all of the time. ;D

          The mythology was my favourite aspect too, if I’m honest. I found it interesting because it was so unexpected. As for sequels; I doubt that will happen. I definitely agree with what you said about it feeling unfinished, or that there’s more story untold, but Byzantium didn’t make much and had a very limited release so I’m not sure how viable a sequel would be.

          Thanks for coming back with your opinions for the discussion! I love it when that happens.


          • I wouldn’t place it on worst or best. As I said, I don’t like or dislike it, I don’t love it but I don’t hate it, but it is a very interesting plot, once it gets moving, but it just takes too damn long to get moving, like a car that won’t start hahaha. With better pacing the bar would’ve been nudged into “love it” hahahaa

            I agree that angst seems to be part of the Vampire genre, but there are other explorable tropes, maybe hide behind a mask of witticism, or cynicism or even be a complete fatalist hahahaha

            I’m sad it didn’t have a “bigger” showing, it’s a universe that DEFINITELY deserves more exploration!


  7. Texting can be so frustrating that it feels like you are banging your head against a wall. Judging by the blood on her forehead that is exactly what she was doing.


  8. Wow, you are like the review queen, I am continually impressed by your writing talent. I really want to watch this now.
    I used to love Vampire movies, before they became all teen emo movies. My personal favourite is The Lost Boys. I even have the soundtrack on my phone.
    Anyway, excellent review.


    • Ah thank you so much for your kind words again Rhio. :D

      The Lost Boys, what a classic. And I was just commenting to a fellow blogger about how I watched it as an adult, only a couple of years ago! Such a travesty, haha!


  9. Been curious about this one, hopefully Netflix Streaming has this. I actually posted the trailer a while ago, as it seems to offer something different in the vampire genre. Have you seen Daybreakers? I was pleasantly surprised by that one as well.


  10. Great review! I want to watch this one now. I like watching different takes on the vampire mythology.


  11. I’m now feeling bad at having missed out on this one at the cinema. I really like the sound of it from your review. Excellent work – I’ll be watching this soon now! :-)


  12. I want to see this because of Gemma Arterton, I guess I should make a better effort to actually watch it now!


  13. Lucky you :)
    I waited and waited only to know that this one will never release here :(


  14. Free posting? Thats amazing :) I mean if you have to post something from here, that is pretty expensive – & me being jobless doesn’t help either :D Do you have offers there or does that happen so with posting DVDs/CDs?



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