|Directed by||Neil Jordan|
|Produced by||Sam Englebardt
William D. Johnson
|Written by||Moira Buffini|
|Music by||Javier Navarrete|
|Edited by||Tony Lawson|
|Box office||$85,252 (US only)|
Byzantium is a 2012 British-Irish fantasy thriller film directed by Neil Jordan and starring Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, and Jonny Lee Miller. The story concerns a mother and daughter vampire duo who move into a rundown hotel while hiding out from other vampires. The film premiered at the Irish Film Institute in April 2013 and was commercially released the following month. It has received generally positive reviews.
The film begins with an old man picking up a discarded note dropped by teenage vampire Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan), who has taken to writing her life story, but then throwing the individual pages to the wind. Realising what she is, the old man invites Eleanor to his house and tells her his life story, before explaining that he is ready for death. Eleanor kills him with a talon grown from her right thumbnail and consumes his blood. Elsewhere, Eleanor's mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton), is chased from the strip club where she has been working by a member of the vampiric Brotherhood named Werner (Thure Lindhardt). Werner subdues Clara and forces her to take him back to Clara and Eleanor's apartment. He demands to know where Eleanor is. Clara decapitates Werner with a garrote, sets fire to the apartment and leaves town with her daughter.
Eleanor and Clara seek sanctuary in a dilapidated coastal resort. There, Clara sets her sights on a lonely soul named Noel (Daniel Mays), who has just inherited the Byzantium, a once-thriving hotel that has fallen into disrepair. Meanwhile, Eleanor plays the piano in a restaurant and is approached by a young waiter named Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), who takes a shine to her. Having seduced Noel, Clara turns the Byzantium into a makeshift brothel, and Eleanor joins the local college, which Frank attends. Interested in her past, Frank questions Eleanor, who writes her story for him to read.
The story, revealed to the viewer in a series of flashbacks, begins during the Napoleonic Wars, when a young Clara, then a fisherman's daughter, encounters two Royal Navy officers, the cruel Captain Ruthven (Jonny Lee Miller) and his more noble subordinate, Midshipman Darvell (Sam Riley). Much to the dismay of Darvell, Clara leaves with Ruthven, who rapes and abandons her in a brothel. When Eleanor is born, Clara leaves her at the local private orphanage and secretly visits her at night. Years later, Clara is dying of what appears to be tuberculosis but is still one of Ruthven's favourites, when he visits the brothel. One day, the brothel is visited by Darvell, whom Ruthven had believed to have died years earlier. Darvell explains to Ruthven that he has, in fact, become a vampire. The only way a human can become a vampire is by traveling to an unnamed island. The island is home to a being known as "The Nameless Saint" who resides within a small stone shrine. If a human enters the shrine and accepts death, the Saint will kill them and they awaken as a "soucriant"...a vampire. Darvell gives Ruthven a map to the island stating Ruthven is a survivor and has all the qualities one needs to become a vampire.
After Darvell leaves the brothel, Clara, who was listening to Darvell's story, shoots Ruthven in the leg, steals the map, makes her way to the island and becomes a vampire. After she awakens, Clara meets with Darvell who brings her before The Brotherhood, a secret society of vampires who protect the secret of vampirism. As their members have traditionally always been male noblemen, they are appalled that a woman, and a low-born prostitute, has joined their ranks, and contemplate killing her. Their leader, Savella (Uri Gavriel), rules that it would be a violation of their code to kill another vampire unjustly, so they let her go, warning her that she may play no part in The Brotherhood, but that they still expect her to follow their code, on pain of death for any violation. For years, Clara watches over Eleanor from afar.
When Eleanor is 16 years old, Clara's decision to spare Ruthven comes back to haunt her. The vengeful captain turns up at Eleanor's orphanage and rapes her, infecting her with what appears to be syphilis as revenge for Clara stealing his chance at immortality. Clara arrives too late to stop him and kills him in a fit of distress. Now forced to choose between incurring the Brotherhood's wrath, or watch her daughter die a slow, painful death, Clara takes Eleanor to the island and has her transformed into a vampire, violating the Brotherhood's code that women are not permitted to create vampires. Clara and Eleanor then spend the next two centuries running from the Brethren's agents. Clara sustains herself by targeting criminals and other undesirables as her source of blood, while Eleanor targets people who are already dying of old age or sickness, and effectively euthanises them.
Back in the present day, Frank naturally assumes the story is a work of fiction. However, Eleanor insists it is her life story and so Frank hands it to his professor, Kevin (Tom Hollander), who, after reading it, hands it off to another professor, Morag (Maria Doyle Kennedy), who is concerned that Eleanor may have an unstable home life that caused her "delusion". Frank begins to believe Eleanor's story and asks to be turned into a vampire as he is slowly dying from leukemia. Eleanor has fallen in love with Frank and decides to help him become a vampire so they can be together. Clara is contacted by Eleanor and Frank's male professor. After realizing Eleanor has revealed their story she immediately kills him.
Clara confronts Eleanor at the hotel where Eleanor states she wants to break free believing Clara has lied to her all these years about the consequences of telling the truth in an attempt to isolate Eleanor and prevent her from leaving. In the scuffle to keep Eleanor from leaving, Noel is killed and Eleanor is trapped in an elevator at the hotel. Clara runs out of the hotel with the intention of killing Frank. The Brotherhood agents Darvell and Savella find out from Eleanor's female professor where Eleanor lives and under the pretence of being police wanting to help they travel to the Byzantium, free Eleanor from the elevator and capture her. Clara arrives at Frank's house but leaves without killing him when she realises that Eleanor is in mortal danger. Savella and Darvell take Eleanor and the professor into their custody and while driving them to an unknown location are stopped by Clara.
Savella kills the professor and subdues Clara. Savella then hands Darvell a sword to decapitate her. However, Darvell, who has always harboured feelings for Clara, swings the blade and beheads Savella. Darvell warns that the Brotherhood is strong and unchanging and will continue to hunt them. Deciding that Eleanor can't spend all her life with her mother and needs to be free, Clara and her daughter part ways. Darvell asks for Clara's forgiveness for abandoning her two centuries ago. Clara says "maybe with time," to which Darvell replies "we have time." Clara then leaves with Darvell as Eleanor goes to Frank's house. Eleanor takes Frank to the nameless island and guides him to the ancient shrine, assuring him and telling him not to be afraid. The film ends with Frank entering the shrine.
- Saoirse Ronan as Eleanor Webb
- Gemma Arterton as Clara Webb
- Sam Riley as Midshipman Darvell
- Jonny Lee Miller as Captain Ruthven
- Daniel Mays as Noel
- Caleb Landry Jones as Frank
- Maria Doyle Kennedy as Morag
- Warren Brown as Gareth
- Thure Lindhardt as Werner
- Barry Cassin as Robert Fowlds
- David Heap as Lap Dancing Client
- Ruby Snape as Wendy
- Glenn Doherty as Steve
- Uri Gavriel as Savella
- Kate Ashfield as Gabi
- Jeff Mash as Mark
The film was released in the United Kingdom on 31 May 2013, and received a limited release in North America on 28 June 2013.
Byzantium received positive reviews from film critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives a score of 62% based on reviews from collected 102 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4. The site's consensus reads: "Director Neil Jordan remains as expert as ever when it comes to setting a chilling mood, but Byzantium struggles to match its creepily alluring atmosphere with a suitably compelling story." Metacritic gave the film a "generally favorable" score of 66 based on reviews from 22 sampled reviewers.
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