Byzantium-quad-posterI hadn’t heard a lot about Neil Jordan’s Byzantium before it was released, but what I had heard was enough to pique my curiosity and despite it being sort of a horror film I managed to persuade the Book God to come along with me to see it. Part of that persuasion may have involved reminding him that the lovely Gemma Arterton was one of the stars but who cares, it got him into the cinema with me.

I don’t think I’m giving too much away by revealing that this is a vampire film, but it is miles away from recent films in that genre (yes Twilight, I’m looking at you). It’s intelligent and gritty and realistic and shows the lengths that Gemma Arterton (Clara) and Saoirse Ronan (Eleanor) have to go to in order to survive, meeting their various physical needs while keeping under the radar as it becomes clear that they are being hunted by some sort of secret brotherhood.

They eventually end up in a seaside town where their story unfolds through flashbacks into their past, where we learn how they became the creatures they are and what exactly their relationship to each other is through the people they interact with in the past and present. Clumsily put but hopefully making sense.

Because this was a film that hadn’t been overly hyped and had a sort of art-house vibe to it I wasn’t sure what to expect, and so I was thrilled to be totally and utterly bowled over by it. The performances were consistently strong, the two female leads in particular were both exceptionally good, and the story hung together really well which can be difficult sometimes in films which move backwards and forwards in time. The atmosphere of the seaside in the present day was suitably seedy, but it was the scenes set in (what I think was) the early 19th century which were really visually stunning.

There was a nice balance between the exploration of the various relationships and the depiction of violence which was necessary to establish not only what type of creature we were dealing with here but also the steps the women had to take to to keep them safe. The very first scene of violence was so graphic and shocking that I was really startled, but I mean that in a good way; a real WTF moment that lets you know you’re in for something special.

And Jonny Lee Miller plays a really really horrible specimen of humanity with great gusto.

I admired this greatly and will be buying it as soon as it comes out on DVD so that I can watch it unfold in all its glory without the distraction of having to work out the plot for the first time. Recommended as something truly different in amongst the blockbusters of summer.

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