Starring Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Jonny Lee Miller
Directed by Neil Jordan
In UK Cinemas May 31st, 2013

by Rebecca Biscuit

I haven’t seen Twilight, but from what I can tell from the posters, it’s about some Mormon vampires who are too scared to have sex. And then when they finally do f*ck each other, something terrible happens, like an apocalypse or a difficult childbirth or something. My expectations for 21st century vampire films are thus pretty low. Come back Josh Whedon – I can totally forgive you for that series 8 comic storyline Buffy-is-a-lesbian-too.

Byzantium is a British vampire movie based on playwright Moira Buffini’s National Theatre production, originally written for 16 year olds. Buffini says that she aimed to explore the idea of damage, and how we survive with our damage, and what it might be like to have to live with your mother for 200 years. The result is an enjoyable and beautifully shot film that overcame my Twilight-twinged low expectations.

Gemma Arterton, professional tart with a heart vampire, plays the mother of Eleanor (Saorise Ronan), angsty teenaged vampire. The film sees them relocate from city council flat to seaside town after Arterton cuts Jonny Lee Miller’s head off, which is awesome and also a spoiler. RETROACTIVE SPOILER ALERT. The classic British seaside town, dingy, depressing yet somehow still alive, works well as a backdrop to and reflection of the vampire storyline, and as a nod to Dracula and Whitby. Nice grungy cinematography throughout. Pointy vampire thumbs up.

As mother and daughter settle into life at Byzantium – a hotel and now brothel in Hastings – we get the standard vampire flick flashbacks to the 19th century. We learn that Clara (Arterton) was forced into prostitution by Jonny Lee Miller – no wonder she cuts his head off! SPOILER ALERT. Turns out that in the 1800s there’s a kind of gentleman’s club of vampires, including Pete Doherty or a man who unfortunately for him looks a bit like Pete Doherty. Pete Doherty wants to get Jonny Lee Miller to join his vampire club, but Clara has broken their men-only rule by getting herself sired in a bad CGI blood fountain off the coast of Ireland (no neck biting in this film). She then goes back and rescues her daughter from an orphanage, and takes her out to the CGI blood fountain to make her a vampire as well. They then spend 200 years avoiding the gentleman’s club and Jonny Lee Miller.

Women aren’t allowed to be vampires or sire other vampires – a twist I haven’t come across in the vampire trope before. The re-appropriation of her ‘women as creator’ role by Clara heightens the central mother/daughter relationship of the film, empowering their uniquely female bond. Go sisters! However Arterton spends most of the movie in her underwear, exploiting other sex workers in her role as madam of Byzantium brothel. Sigh. The cycle of abuse continues.

Overall, it’s not the best vampire film I have seen. It’s probably not even the best vampire film Neil Jordan has made. However, I was entertained throughout, and it wasn’t Twilight. ‘The Best It’s Not Twilight’ is never going to be a category at the Oscars, but still. Glad it wasn’t Twilight.

One Response to “Byzantium”

  1. Dorothy says:

    Your story was really infarmotive, thanks!

Leave a Reply