Neil Jordan made Tom Cruise look good in Interview with the Vampire, but Byzantium is even better.
Saoirse Ronan chews up the celluloid as a 16-year-old vampire, on the run with lusty Gemma Arterton, who looks in her period flashbacks as though she just stepped out of a classic Hammer Horror movie (and indeed, there’s a nod to Hammer’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness in the film).
Writer Moira Buffini has delivered a script that these two actors totally inhabit, Ronan with subtlety and tender beauty, Arterton a force majeure of hedonistic pragmatism. The familial relationship between the two, of freedom vs control, change vs habit, of nurture and protection, is a joy to watch as Ronan’s Eleanor stretches her 200-year-old adolescent wings.
In the background is the threat of a patriarchal order who don’t like women rocking their boat, with events set in motion by Johnny Lee Miller as bounder and cad, and Sam Riley as an understated hero-figure.
The casting is superb, the sets suitably atmospheric, and there are nods to vampire forerunners in Ruthven and Carmilla. The vampirism here is well drawn and consistent, drawing on a Caribbean version called a soucriant (read more in this excellent New York Times review).
The story is kept simple and is simply told, set to a soundtrack of classical and folk songs, and gorgeously presented by Jordan and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, allowing us to bask in the beauty: to sink in its warmth like Bathory into a bath.
Definitely in my list of the best vampire movies.