Byzantium

I’ve always thought Gemma Arterton was completely over-rated. I figured that somewhere in her recent past there was a casting couch with her name on it. Because mostly, she always struck me as some middling East Enders actress who’d inexplicably hit the big time but was in fact more likely an Aladdin-in-panto-in-Croydon than a Bond girl, for god’s sake. I figured that after a Hello Magazine wedding, and a Christmas No.1 (a duet with Peter Andre, obvs), she’d drop back into cockney obscurity before committing a last, tragic, attention-grabbing stint on Celebrity Big Brother. That’s what I thought. And, well, I take it all back…..

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In Neil Vincent’s dark fantasy Vampire melodrama Byzantium, it’s Gemma Arterton who’s the show stealer. She’s fierce, slatternly, righteous and sympathetic by turns, mother and harlot, victim and hero, and she works both an Austen bodice and a skin-tight leather jeanpant with absolute aplomb. Her scene with the school teacher who’s inadvertently discovered her secret is completely menacing and completely plausible (which is no mean feat). Ms. Arterton’s committed and actually quite astounding performance makes up for a “young human-vampire love story” with Saiorse Ronan that doesn’t quite get into seventh gear. But I enjoyed the cruise in sixth nonetheless.

Byzantium is rich in locations; the dreary seaside town of Hastings and the magnificent rugged Beara Peninsula in Ireland make the most vivid of backdrops.

Prince of Persia

In Prince of Persia, Jake Gyllenhaal pulls off the tremendous feat of becoming at once both more butch and more femme. Shot in Morocco, the plot revolves around a regicidal Royal who – eschewing more time-tested methods of removing his royal rivals (eg poison, gutting, beheading etc.) – devises a really outraegously convoluted plot whereby he’ll declare war on an innocent country, steal a magical dagger from a princess, and turn back time to a pivotal moment when (boo hoo!) he should have been the future king. Jake sets out to stop him.

So: Ben Kingsley, as the baddie, eats the furniture, and Ms. Fields once again revives her recurring role as an undercover English princess – though quite how she ends up in that desert beneath that duvet is beyond me. But it’s Prince-Charmingly-haired Jake who’s the most perplexing: doe eyed and recently buffed, very early on in the film, those Deliverance words sprang unbidden into my mind: “He got a real purdy mouth ain’t he?”

After that, I couldn’t really concentrate.