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Review: Byzantium

by Guest Writer

I hate Twilight. I don’t like pathetic, simpering women, and I’m not a huge fan of fantasy movies, although from time to time I’ll like one if it’s good.

I was also double-booked last night, for two screenings, which I only realised about half an hour before I was due to leave for both of them. I skimmed the synopses and re-read the invitations, and honestly, the reason I chose to go and see Byzantium was because the email promised free wine and canapés.

The Soho Hotel delivered on the food and wine. It was excellent. But the film was even better.

The playwright, an immensely likeable Moira Buffini, stood up beforehand and spoke for a few minutes about the concept behind the script. It was originally written for theatre, and then adapted for film by Stephen Woolley. Buffini explained that she’d tried to write the play she’d have wanted to be in as a sixteen-year-old, and that she had two questions in mind for the script to answer:

1. What would it be like to spend 200 years with your mother? (collective shudders from the audience)
2. How do people deal with their damage?

Interesting questions. And they’re answered beautifully in the film.

Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan) is a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl who spends her life hiding her biggest secret. Nothing strange about that. But her secret is that she’s been sixteen for two hundred years, having been made into a vampire by her mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton). The story follows the two women through their life in the modern age, and shows how it’s changed and how it’s remained the same since the 1800s.

Naturally, they meet some men along the way. Noel (Daniel Mays), a forty-something loser who’s inherited money from his deceased mother, provides the home they need – the Byzantium, an ex-B&B which Clara promptly turns into a brothel. Eleanor’s love interest comes in the shape of a young schoolboy, Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), and a classic young love story unfolds between them.

It’s a surprisingly touching film considering the level of gore (the lady next to me did not look OK); the question of how people deal with damage was shown as a stark contrast between Clara, taking the hard route, the only one she knew; and Eleanor, upholding truth and believing in her teenage way that love conquers all. Perhaps it does. You’ll have to watch the film to find out.

I didn’t like it because it’s a vampire movie. I liked it because it’s about a girl who has a story, who writes it down over and over again in every place she moves to with her mother, and then throws it to the wind because she knows that truth is fatal.

It’s lovely. Go see it. But if you’re squeamish you might want to cover your eyes from time to time.


7/10 – Surprisingly moving for a story about vampires

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