Starring: Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Sam Riley, Johnny Lee Miller, Daniel Mays
Running Time: 118 minutes
With his second soiree into the world of vampires Neil Jordan has chosen to adapt Moira Buffini’s stage play into a feature film. From Buffini’s own screenplay BYZANTIUM, like Jordan’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, is a journey through the life of it’s leads, but unlike INTERVIEW… it will leave you unfulfilled and maybe a little bored.
Prostitute Clara (Arterton), and Eleanor (Ronan) live in modern-day London feeding off the blood of the unsuspecting but deserving/willing. When they have to flee and arrive at a seaside resort Clara makes ‘acquaintance’ with Noel (Mays – horribly underused) and the pair make home at the Byzantium B & B. Whilst there we learn Clara and Eleanor’s past which will soon catch up with them.
As with INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, BYZANTIUM is told through flashback as Eleanor reveals herself to individuals through the course of the film. The structure works thanks to Ronan’s likeable portrayal of Eleanor, but the story doesn’t offer any surprises and has a hugely plodding feel. Gemma Arterton’s Clara isn’t a particularly empathetic person as she waltzes around using individuals for her gain and even her pretty horrific past won’t garner empathy. The biggest of BYZANTIUM’s problems is the sparsity of screen time for Daniel Mays, Noel, the most interesting character in the film: confused, eager to please but clearly unstable, we want to see more of him and his handling of the leads secret but there is none of that.
BYZANTIUM is, as you’d expect from Jordan, beautiful to look at, fantastically lit, and gothic in palette. Jordan also gets some very good performances from the cast, particularly a snide Johnny Lee Miller who is realistically the only antagonist on display and this lack of an antagonist, combined with the nature of the leads lives, make it difficult to immerse yourself into the film and care what happens. Any positives you may find will be killed by a horrible last fifteen minutes where the film moves from 0-60 mph in a second and ceases to make sense, and sadly the finale will have people thinking of TWILIGHT when the rest of the movie seems intent on moving away from that.
In returning to a subject matter he’d explored so well previous Neil Jordan has made a mistake with BYZANTIUM. Neither the narrative nor the characters are interesting or fulfilling enough to hold your attention, and whilst everyone tries their best this vampire film just ends up sucking (sorry).