Just when I thought that my belovedly sinister vampires were gone for good, director Neil Jordan comes in and saves them from the brink of sparkly doom with his brilliant 2012 film Byzantium. It’s only befitting that Jordan would save the species for me. He is, after all, the one who gifted me the gloriously campy cruelty I also love in vampires, with his 1994 movie adaptation of Interview with the Vampire.
At first blush, you might think that the focus of this story is on Eleanor Webb, the mysterious young woman who writes her story a thousand times over, only to destroy it as she goes along. It’s a tale she cannot tell, for its revelation will come at an expensive price to her and her mother Clara. To be fair, in many ways, this is Eleanor’s story. But to understand her story, we must understand the one who penned its beginning in the very blood that flows through both their veins.
In light of recent posts on other Ladies of Horror May-hem, I would liken Clara, as portrayed by Gemma Arterton, to a combination of Gale Weathers’ opportunistic drive, filtered through the maternal ferocity of Pamela Voorhees. She is raw and pitiless, forged by brutalities etched into her skin from places and people we will never have the opportunity to understand. They have long passed from this existence, but Clara continues, her life line knowing no natural end thanks to her own elemental sagacity.
Eleanor, who possesses a surprisingly compassionate soul in light of what she is, is the antithesis of Clara in almost every way. Her porcelain fragility and cultured mannerisms and speech amplify Clara’s coarse flamboyance, her lower-class vulgarity, the physicality, both sexual and ferocious, of everything she does. However negatively Clara might come across in comparison to Eleanor, you realize quickly that it is this way because of Clara’s fierceness. She has spent a series of lifetimes granting her daughter every opportunity possible, protecting her from every harm and threat…her penance for failing her once. Only once. But the penance she pays for that failure is far greater than even Eleanor can understand.
Just writing about Clara makes me even more appreciative of her brilliant complexity, and makes me wish I had this movie in my collection now so that I could view it again ASAP. It’s been far too long since I was excited by a vampire tale. I relish the feeling.