It may not seem like it by the Greek-sounding title, but "Byzantium" actually tells us a story about British vampires spanning two centuries. It is based on the play by Moira Buffini, who also wrote the adapted screenplay.
The Byzantium in the title is the name of a rundown resort in the English coastline where a couple of 200-year old female vampires (who call themselves soucriants), the gorgeous harlot Clara and her daughter Eleanor, seek refuge, hiding from those who seek to destroy them. For their sustenance, Clara sticks to her skills in the world's oldest profession, while Eleanor mercifully visits nursing homes.
When Eleanor tells her incredible life story to her new friend Frank, he could not help but share her writings to others. Alerted to their whereabouts, the all-male vampire fraternity that Clara defied in the past would come back to exact their revenge.
This is a film that stars Gemma Arterton and that was enough reason for me to catch this otherwise unheralded film. This beautiful actress shows us yet another facet of her gem-like talent, this time as the mother vampire Clara. Her character here is willful, headstrong and violent, and Ms. Arterton certainly bought on that fire and passion in her performance.
Saoirse Ronan is really the go-to girl nowadays for these unusual teenage girl characters -- from "Atonement" to "The Lovely Bones", "Hanna", "The Host", and now here in "Byzantium", as the eternal 16-year old Eleanor. She has her trademark cerebral attack to her role, with quiet dignity and poetic musings. Her subdued performance plays in perfect sharp contrast with the vibrant Arterton. Ronan has good chemistry with Caleb Landry Jones as her sickly friend Frank.
The other surprise in the credits of this film is that the director is none other than Neil Jordan. In 1994, it was also Jordan who gave us THE vampire film of that decade, "Interview with a Vampire." "Interview," based on the book by Anne Rice, arguably remains to be the better film. But "Byzantium" definitely has a distinct charm of its own, with its brighter color palette (especially the reds), with inventive special effects, and of course, the two vital female leads.
My main problem with this film would be its slow pace, taking almost two hours to tell its story. This could make less interested viewers lose their patience. Otherwise, this is a lush production with sweeping images and high quality production values, which will appeal to most audiences, especially to fans of vampire lore. 6/10.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."