Byzantium at the Toronto Film Festival

This week Neil Jordan’s vampire film Byzantium had its debut at the Toronto Film Festival.  For those of you don’t know, this is the first entry into undead cinema by Jordan since his adaptation of Interview With A Vampire, which at first infuriated then enthralled the author Anne Rice as well as making Kirsten Dunst a budding star.  Jordan is also responsible for such memorable cinema as The Crying Game and the dreamlike The Company of Wolves.

Here reads the official synopsis: 
On the run for murder, two young “sisters” arrive penniless at an English seaside town. Clara (Gemma Arterton) is a fiercely modern woman who has her eyes on the future and no time for the past. Teenager Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) is shy and innocent. Yet, they both hide the same secrets: They are really mother and daughter, and they are both … vampires!

Eleanor is exhausted by 200 years on the run and desperate to settle down. But little does she know that her mother has been protecting her all of the years from their own kind, “The Brotherhood”. To escape them, they must either blend in or continue running away. But just as they think they may have escaped, their past rapidly catches up with them.

So far the reviews are mixed.  The Globe and Mail gives it three out of five stars.  “…where Twilight is a teen romance with abstinence education, Byzantium is mostly a mother-daughter story with sex work on the side. That sounds weird, and to director Neil Jordan’s credit, it is. Byzantium – the name of a haunted hotel, and before that, an ancient Greek city – deals with memory, immortality, and sacrifice.  Gemma Arterton plays an indomitable stripper, prostitute, and mom; the seriously talented Saoirse Ronan is her sensitive loner kid. Both are vampires on the run from a bad mystery brotherhood. Female-forward and class-conscious, allegorical and adventurous, Byzantium is almost the anti-Batman.”  On a side note, this makes the first explanation for the title I’ve heard or read.  And for the record, Byzantium is modern Istanbul, onetime capital of the mighty Eastern Roman Empire from roughly the third century to the fifteenth.

Jordon Hoffman of Film.com gave the film a C+.  His review begins as something like a break-up letter:  “It’s not you, it’s me.  You are so beautiful, so earnest. You are going to make a moody, gothic fantasy fan so happy one day. And I’ll be there to cheer you on, proud of your world-building efforts, your evocative photography and unique mother-daughter dynamics. I’m so sorry I won’t be able to ever say I love you (or even like you), but I admire you, and I know that you’ll do well.  While your spirit is pure and eternal, I simply have no more room in my life for a tale of ennui-besotted vampires, wandering for centuries in their prison of stunted age.”

Screenwriter Moira Buffini incidentally wrote this film based on her own stage play.  She also penned the recent film version of Jane Eyre.

So, are you looking forward to this film?  Why?  Or why not?

By david

David MacDowell Blue blogs at Night Tinted Glasses.  He graduated from the National Shakespeare Conservatory and is the author of The Annotated Carmilla. and Your Vampire Story (And How to Write It) as well as a theatrical adaptation of Carmilla.

7 comments

  1. It’s interesting that Eleanor has a red hood reminiscent of Red Riding Hood in Jordan’s Company of Wolves. (One of my favorite movies.)

  2. I simply have no more room in my life for a tale of ennui-besotted vampires, wandering for centuries in their prison of stunted age.
    But isn’t that the whole point of vampire characters? To explore the ennui of being trapped in a physical body for “eternity”? This reviewer has dismissed the entirety of classic French vampire cinema in one fell swoop.

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