Easily the two best things in this film are Gemma Arterton’s breasts jumping gallantly around for most of the film, occasionally winking out of their hopeful constraints toward us like two giant, mischievous mountains, whilst lesser beings gravitate around them and, as soon as they prove to be no visual challenge to Arterton’s alluring curves, are promptly killed. This is because the lady in question plays a vampire, Clara, quite fully endowed to helm the film solo she is nevertheless enjoined by her moody vampire daughter Eleanor, played by Saoirse Ronan. The two both began as human and despite both being around two hundred years old, Eleanor picks this particular moment to enter her teenage rebellious phase, queue lots of staring meaningfully into the distance, capriciousness and melancholy pangs of no one else understanding her, and pops at her mother’s guardianship and choice of vocation.
This is one of the many faults of the film, but the list is rather a long one. Said mother’s vocation, for example, is harlotry. Now, given we’re told they never forget anything and have been around for two centuries it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to consider she could have come up with something better to do than offer shaft maintenance at fifty pounds a go. In fact, since we also find out her and her daughter, who does not turn tricks incidentally (at least, not so far as we are aware), are the only female vampires in existence, she must effectively be the best prostitute the world has ever known. I mean, her pelvic floor muscles must be so damn powerful that she can prevent ejaculation at all times, maintain erections indefinitely, and she’s immune to disease. Together with her eternal beauty, she should be sleeping with world premiers not moaning and mumping about how she’s so hard up and she’s simply doing what she can to support her family, as if she’s some washed up dockland missy with broken teeth, whose closest friends are crawling around in her undergarments. She blatantly enjoys what she does, why can’t the writer (Moira Buffini, based on her play) just be honest with her characters?
Eleanor promptly finds a young male to chow over teenage angst ridden romance with, and naturally she is torn by whether or not she should tell him she’s dead, although she’s already decided she will of course, she just wants to dramatise the wait as much as possible, and frankly the male character she chooses is way creepier than any of the vampires are. As the only female vamps, they are being pursued by some of the ruling male hierarchy who wish to ‘have words’ with them. Among their number is Sam Riley playing Darvell, and he is pretty convincing in the role, until he starts to do his gravelly voice thing that he used to such bad effect in ‘On the Road’. For goodness sake, you are a vampire, your character does not need to pretend to be hard.
A vampire film daring to be released into the saturated market nowadays really has to have something original and compelling about it – this doesn’t. It doesn’t make any sense, the characters are unreal in more ways than one, I sort of got into the back story that’s told throughout the film but even that is done in a very awkward and disjointed manner. Indeed, with Ronan’s character there are shades of her last release, ‘The Host’, and the final film is just as lackluster – a major disappointment from director Neil Jordan, amongst whose past credits lies the very fine indeed ‘Interview with the Vampire’ (94). Incidentally, the title comes primarily from the name of the guest house Clara sets up business in, though there is a brief reference to the city – Byzantium was of course the precursor of what would later become Constantinople, and then, later still, Istanbul in modern day Turkey.