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The Dying Game

Byzantium (2013)

Patrick Redmond/Studiocanal

Neil Jordan's taste for merging Celtic blood lust with languid fairy tales has sparked life into supernatural stories before, especially the sprawling canvas and drenching atmosphere of "Interview With the Vampire" nearly two decades ago. "Byzantium" works on a smaller scale. It's at least as interested in the position of women in both civilian and secret societies as it is in the consequences of immortality, and concludes that life is no picnic in either camp. Livened up more than strictly necessary by Mr. Jordan's eye for detail and the endlessly fascinating face of Saoirse Ronan, "Byzantium" holds its own against the expectations raised by this director returning to this particular arena, as well as the inconvenient fact that vampires have been overexposed to death on screens large and small since he was last here.

The story and style of "Byzantium" are in fact right up Mr. Jordan's alley. Vampires Eleanor (Ms. Ronan) and her mother Clara (Gemma Arterton), on the run from the all-male coven of blood-drinkers offended by their gender and very existence, hide out in a bleak British seaside resort, while Eleanor compulsively tells her life story to notebooks that no one will ever read. Clara sets up a modest brothel in the guest house owned by a somewhat smitten Noel (Daniel Mays, the best there is at conveying a core of British decency at the center of easily bruised fruit), while Eleanor befriends the sickly Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) and ponders her eternal existence alongside his impending death.

Even scaled down to an unfashionable chamber piece by budget and directorial inclination, "Byzantium" has a singular mood. The ceremony by which vampires are created on an isolated rocky island boils down to an unlit corner of the set and some judicious use of stand-ins, but the image of Ms. Arterton bathed in waterfalls of blood halfway up a cliff face makes a suitably Gothic splash. Several subtexts of uncaring males hating and fearing women simmer throughout and jump between plot threads - in the case of a venereal Jonny Lee Miller deliberately infecting a 16-year-old girl, the text isn't very sub - so fantasy and allegory are mashed together in a very confined space. And the confines of the screen are no hindrance to Ms. Ronan, who seems to be looking at you while you're looking at her.


Opens on May 31 in Britain and on June 28 in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Neil Jordan; written by Moira Buffini, based on her play “A Vampire Story”; director of photography, Sean Bobbitt; edited by Tony Lawson; music by Javier Navarrete; production design by Simon Elliott; costumes by Consolata Boyle; produced by Stephen Woolley, Alan Moloney, Elizabeth Karlsen, William D. Johnson and Samuel Englebardt; released by Studiocanal (Britain) and IFC Films (United States). Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes. This film is rated 15 by B.B.F.C. and R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Gemma Arterton (Clara), Saoirse Ronan (Eleanor), Sam Riley (Darvell), Jonny Lee Miller (Ruthven), Daniel Mays (Noel) and Caleb Landry Jones (Frank).


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