Film Review: Byzantium (Think all Vampires lead glamorous lives? Think again)

A Vampire Movie that Slipped Through the Net

byzI remember hearing about an upcoming vampire movie starring Irish actor Saoirse Ronan (The Host, The Lovely Bones) maybe eighteen months to two years ago, but I don’t remember it ever coming to the cinema. I found it recently and thoroughly enjoyed this very different vampire tale. It’s directed by Neil Jordan, who also did Interview with the Vampire.

Byzantium is often bleak, but with the muted tone, vibrant cinematography and stunning performances by Ronan, Gemma Arterton and Caleb Landry Jones, I’d recommend it to any fans of the vampire genre who are interested in watching something different.

Clara and Eleanor have spent the last two hundred years moving from place to place, running. They could be sisters, and call themselves such, but Clara is actually Eleanor’s mother. They are vampires, but not the sort we’ve come to know in recent years. They aren’t superhero powerful, leading fabulous lives of wealth and frivolity, having great sex or enjoying all-consuming romances with eternal lovers. No, Clara ekes out a meagre living for them as a prostitute. She’s been selling her body for hundreds of years and doesn’t know anything else. Times may have changed since she was a young human, but one of the oldest professions in the world goes on. She’s sparky and straight-talking where Eleanor is quiet and reflective. Clara kills when necessity strikes. Eleanor takes only those who are willing and ready to die.

Their arrival in a rundown seaside resort in England brings about big change. Clara finds a home and new business enterprise in a nerdy guy suffering a recent bereavement. She turns his deceased mother’s closed down guesthouse into a brothel. Eleanor meanwhile wanders into a nursing home one night and starts playing the piano. A young employee  watches her play. She is polite but not eager to answer his questions. Frank is a pensive young man, quiet and older than his years. They attend the same school, both are outsiders and loners, and so it’s no surprise they are drawn to each  other.  Eleanor breaks her mother’s rule. She writes the story of their lives for Frank, and their private world is about to be torn apart.

I found myself moved watching this story. It doesn’t have the action or the beautiful brooding vampires we’ve come to see in recent years, a welcome change. These two women seem like ordinary, down-on-their-luck people, scrummaging through the garbage heap of life to maintain their existence. The dilapidated promenade running the length of the beach and the desolate, empty atmosphere of the town serves to underline the sombre and quiet tone of this film. The flashes of life, spirit and violence all come from Clara.

How they came to be vampires is another unusual twist on the typical blood exchange we’ve come to see in most books and films. The flashbacks that happen throughout the film give us just enough information to keep us waiting for the next piece of the puzzle.

For a rainy day, I’d recommend Byzantium. Even if you’re not a fan of the fang, but enjoy supernatural dramas, give this a try. ****

Here’s a clip of Eleanor talking with one of the teachers who read her essay.

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What do you think? One to add to your vampire movie list?

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28 thoughts on “Film Review: Byzantium (Think all Vampires lead glamorous lives? Think again)

      1. I watched the movie this past weekend and will be posting my review on my blog later today. I linked your post to mine to let others know that this movie is getting some buzz.

  1. I love Saoirse Ronan! I remember seeing the ads for this film a while back but totally forgot it since. Thanks for reminding me and I’m glad you enjoyed the movie. 🙂 I’m putting it on my to-watch list.

  2. I reviewed this one myself a while back. It was indeed an unexpected gem and quite a different take on vampire lore. Really enjoyed it and the performances overall were inspiring. Nice post! 🙂

  3. Saw this a while back. Loved the performances, and the originality, but didn’t love the movie overall. Can’t say what, though. Still, I’d recommend it and it a 3/5 :)’ I’d give this eloquent review a 5/5 though Emma 😉

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