Saoirse Ronan plays a 200-year-old teenage vampire in Byzantium Photo by: Handout

Saoirse Ronan’s ‘Byzantium’ shows Neil Jordan can still thrill - VIDEO


Saoirse Ronan plays a 200-year-old teenage vampire in Byzantium Photo by: Handout

Byzantium is about prostitutes who refuse to be victimized, and virgins who refuse to become saints. The women in it have to grapple with the men who seek to control them if they want to write their own destinies and find their own lives.

As Eleanor, the script gives Ronan, 19, the scope to craft the most heartfelt performance of her career to date. Playing a lonely young teenager in a seaside town with a secret that could get her

killed, she’s completely convincing in the role.
“Saoirse has the ability that very few actors have to bring the whole reality of her world to her expression. You can see it on her face,” says Jordan.

“She’s kind of extraordinary. I hope she chooses the right roles because she’ll have a great career, I think.”

Already a prodigious talent, Ronan learned piano for the role and is pictured early on playing it in an old folks home (she survives on the blood of terminal elderly patients who welcome the death she offers as a mercy and a relief).

She’s 200 years older than the oldest resident, and you can see it in her eyes and hear it in the notes she plays. It’s an astonishing scene in a film filled with remarkable images.

“That scene was beautiful. Saoirse learned that piece herself. She spent about two months rehearsing with a piano teacher. She’s an extraordinary actress Saoirse, she was perfect for this part,” says Jordan.

Cards on the table here -- I don’t usually enjoy or seek out vampire films, which is why Byzantium was such a welcome surprise to me. Jordan has crafted a film that’s as much about the fate of love as it is about the walking dead. Men who exhibit empathy and kindness in their daily lives, men who love and are loved in return, are rewarded in Byzantium.

But men who seek the power to control the world and all the people in it to enrich themselves and flout everyone else are punished, usually gruesomely.

Jordan’s female vampires correct the arrogant presumption of their male counterparts in a public service you may find yourself appreciating.

It’s Frank, the weird young man with the leukemia that will soon end his life, who has the patience and the interest to do what so few others have ever been willing to do. Frank loves Eleanor and he listens to her; in saving her he ends up saving himself.

Jordan may well be thinking of another Irish master, W.B. Yeats, whose poem Sailing to Byzantium tackles the problem of old age, the problem of the mind and the spirit becoming “fastened to a dying animal.”

Jordan’s eternally young vampires know all about this predicament. But they, like the director and the Irish poet, solve it by staying true to the heart and the spirit that guides them.
You can be any age, as long as you love well. As long as you connect to the deepest part of yourself, you’ll endure. Even after you’re gone.

For that reason Byzantium is Jordan’s most personal film in two decades. Don’t miss it.


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