What follows will be a review of the show that debuted on BBC One and Netflix, January 1st of this year. It took me a while to get to because, the Beard, my Partner in Crime, had mentioned that he wanted to see this with me, and when he does that, then I queue it up, and wait until we get a chance to watch it together. It’s only fair.
The problem lies in the fact that we always have a long queue: October Faction, Lost in Space Season 2, Nightflyers, Ragnarok, Locke and Key, Star Trek: Discovery, Picard, and The Mandalorian. There are others, but I think you get my drift. It should be noted that I sincerely believe that the environment in which you see something, view something, read something, impacts the way we receive it.
If I’m in a crowded theater and the crowd is mesmerized by what is transpiring on screen, then of course, it will effect my reception of the experience. (I watched It Chapter 2 in a crowded theater in Puerto Rico and during certain parts of that movie you could hear a pin drop.) Needless to say it is on my Top Ten Horror Movies list. Check my post, way back on October 4, 2019. Hence, this is why I wait.
The show is a drama horror blend that is created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat based on the novel written by Bram Stoker. The property is divided into three episodes, each approximately an hour and a half long. The capable Danish actor Claes Bang plays Count Dracula. Dolly Wells plays the bad ass Sister Agatha Van Helsing and the equally kick ass Dr. Zoe Van Helsing. John Heffernan plays the skittish Jonathan Harker and Morfydd Clark plays Mina Murray which is almost an ancillary character here.
Episode One which is really about the length of a movie starts very faithful to the book. Jonathan Harker is sent by his London law firm to travel to Transylvania to assist the Count in purchasing properties in England and facilitate his naturalization to Great Britain. During Harker’s stay, both Jonathan and the Count undergo transformations. As the Count gets younger, Harker gets older. It is understood that the Count is feeding on Harker.
As Harker weakens, he recognizes the urgency of attempting escape; however, the castle is a maze, and he finds it increasingly difficult to navigate the passageways. What he does manage to discover is that he is not alone. There are many undead that lie strewn amidst the voluminous chambers of the castle. Some maintain bits of their humanity while others are monstrous echoes of their former selves.
Dracula kills Harker, and when he revives as undead he invites Harker to become one of his brides. Jonathan jumps from a castle parapet, preferring to die than to face the alternative. The young lawyer doesn’t die, but is found in the sea and taken to a convent, where he is examined by Sister Agatha Van Helsing. She asks him whether he had sex with Dracula and he never responds.
The reason I make note of this is that there are allusions to such in the novel, but because it was written in a Victorian time, that question was thought improper to ask and answer, so Stoker hints at it, but never fully commits. I love that the writers, as aficionados make overt something that is subtle.
When Harker discovers that Mina has accompanied Sister Agatha throughout the questioning, he attempts to attack Mina. Mina has inadvertently cut herself and his hunger is almost overwhelming. When he returns to his senses, he is so overcome with guilt that he attempts to kill himself with a stake. The wood is carried by Sister Agatha who is of course always prepared. She mentions in her introduction that she is a unique nun with specialized skills.
Dracula approaches the convent, attracted by Harker (his bride), but cannot enter without an invitation. At the gates, Dracula and Van Helsing have a verbal joust which demonstrates a tremendous amount of courage on her part, maybe even hubris. The nuns all gather around Sister Agatha and Mother Superior and they all hold the line, which is stunning because Dracula is so convincing and silver-tongued, I was sure one of the nuns would cave.
The nuns at the convent rejoice in their victory against Dracula while Mother Superior begins to preach a homily about faith in the sanctuary. Meanwhile, Dracula finds Harker who is reviving. He informs Harker that the undead cannot kill themselves. Someone else must terminate them. He promises to end Harker’s existence, if Harker invites him in. When Harker agrees, Dracula enters, and with gleeful dispatch, the nuns are slaughtered, leaving Van Helsing and Mina alive.
There is, of course, more. I really have only summarized the first episode, but because I don’t want to give anything more away, I will stop here to begin my review. I like the actors and the roles they play. Harker appears like a quaking wimp, but Sister Agatha points out how tremendously courageous he really is, and I agree. Who wouldn’t be defecating themselves with regularity confronted with similar circumstances? I don’t mind the change of gender for Van Helsing. Neither do I mind the change of vocation, although the implication would be that a woman is better as a nun as opposed to a teacher. Mina is used with great effect, but her story is lost in the update.
The cinematography is great. Directing is good. The camera angles work. The screen blocking is all well done. The sets are wonderful. The music works. I watched every minute and I was entertained. Now let me tell you why I’m pissed at this show.
I am a reader. I LOVE the Bram Stoker novel for its originality of style, but the vampire legend has a rich history that goes back to Ancient Greece. If someone wants to tell a vampire story, tell a vampire story. I don’t care about that. When you call something Dracula, I get a little mad if I don’t get Dracula. I don’t mind the update. I don’t mind creators taking some liberties to tell the story on the Demeter and still calling it Dracula.
I have a problem with calling Episode 3: Dracula. They should have called it Dracula Into the Future or Dracula Versus Van Helsing. One of the things that the Hammer films got right is naming their movies well. Once they did Dracula (the Stoker story), they went on to do: The Satanic Rites of Dracula, Dracula A.D., The Brides of Dracula, Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Scars of Dracula, Dracula has Risen from the Grave, and Dracula Prince of Darkness.
In every single movie, Hammer altered Dracula just enough that he was still recognizable while taking on separate dimensions and aspects of his character. I didn’t get the same sense with Episode 3. Hammer had a thorough respect for the source material despite making exploitative sequel after exploitative sequel.
I am consistent in my argument. If you recall our Autopsy Video on Conan, I blasted the writers for not understanding Conan. The writers had little respect for the source material, believing that they knew the character better than Robert E. Howard. I’m tired of writers who want the quick money of riding on the coat tails of a thoroughly creative genius like Bram Stoker, wanting the immediate name recognition of a character like Dracula, and then saying screw you to the creator, and changing the milieu of Dracula and calling it Dracula. Be like Hammer films and call your TV show something else. Mark Gatiss should know better.
For being respectful and semi-faithful in Episode 1 and being semi-creative in Episode 2 with the Demeter, (Dracula isn’t even supposed to be on the manifest because he traveled inside his coffin, but whatever) I will give this a semi-enthusiastic, middle of the road 3 Grey Geeks!