Byzantium - Blu-ray Review

'answers a question no-one asked: what would happen to ever-living vampires if, on their travels, they suddenly found themselves in a recession-hit British seaside down?'

A somewhat bizarre mixture of Interview With The Vampire and Underworld, Neil Jordan's Byzantium never quite settles on the genre wrapping it wants to place around its vampire-led narrative. Jordan, most recently seen writing and directing episodes of TVs The Borgias seems definitely to have chosen a script that would allow him to go the whole costume-drama hog, essentially producing a spiritual sequel to Interview, which he directed back in 1994. The problem is that, for the most part, this appears to be something touching British social realism, with inflections from the long-black-coat neon-cool of films such as the Underworld franchise whenever it feels like it can get away with them.

Shot by 12 Years A Slave's Sean Bobbitt, lending further art house and period credentials to a film which at times looks anything but, Byzantium ultimately comes across as an uncomfortable middle-ground, answering a question no-one asked: what would happen to ever-living vampires if, on their travels, they suddenly found themselves in a recession-hit British seaside down? Volunteering as global blood-sucking experiment are Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton, who hop into bed with Noel (Daniel Mays) and promptly establish a brothel in his dilapidated guest house, the forebodingly named Byzantium.

What follows feels like an exercise in distraction. The period narrative with Clara (Arterton), Darvell (a criminally under-used Sam Riley) and Ruthven (Jonny Lee Miller) is where the main interest lies but instead we get Clara attempting to keep Noel onside and Eleanor (Ronan) carrying out a Twilight-like romance with drippy Frank (Caleb Landry Jones). Landry Jones, in fact, is the main culprit for making this segment un-interesting: a more disaffecting, disinterested screen presence it is not possible to find.

On the plus side, Byzantium is that rare genre film with two accomplished female leads playing fairly complicated characters. It's possible to like both Clara and Eleanor, despite the lengths to which they have to go more than once during the course of the film. Arterton, not at her strongest, is perhaps a bit shrill, but even then she's an extremely watchable presence and Ronan, who's been pretty faultless for a while now, reacts well as the changes in their relationship are slowly eked out. Tom Hollander, teaching the kind of literature class you hope only exists in fiction, adds some much needed thespianism to the modern-day proceedings, as does Riley, when he is eventually allowed to show up.

Ultimately though, Byzantium is full of frivolous ideas and superfluous story that it's just too difficult to care about. Clara and Eleanor's plight is engaging but, as ever, there's a void that needs to be filled as they wait for the evil forces to arrive, a void which here is left traditionally vampiric: empty and heartless.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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