What we have to realise here and be conscious of is, that a review is merely a personal opinion, an opinion of the reviewer who’s taste in film, books and music or even a food may not be the same as everyone else. There are certain examples of what I call classics in literature that maybe should be left alone, there are also stories that have been filmed successfully and become popular that really should not be re-made or updated and altered, writers adding bits and pieces that they think are good or maybe will update the story and make it more appealing to the contemporary world. Movies such as GONE WITH THE WIND, THE ALAMO, EL CID, BEN HUR and their like should not be re-made, but sadly they are, and the end result is a lack lustre collection of films that fade into the mists of time never to be seen again. Now DRACULA by Bram Stoker has been made into a string of movies, each one tackling the content in a different way, the Universal pictures version with Bela Lugosi, although a cinematic classic was not that faithful at all to the Stoker novel but it certainly shocked audiences, the same can be said for DRACULA according to Hammer films, although this the first in the Hammer cycle is one of the better adaptations, with Christopher Lee taking on the role of the infamous Count. Then Hammer kind of lost their way after DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, with the films in the series focuses upon the more sexual content. Then came IL CONTE DRACULA directed by Jesus Franco, who although stuck to the story penned by Stoker, did add some of his little quirks, the director was said to have consulted Stokers novel each day before shooting. Christopher Lee starred as a moustache wearing Count in this 1970.s adaptation. I think the best version of DRACULA was aired on the BBC in 1977 with Louis Jordan in the title role. Since then there have been many incarnations, BRAM STOKERS DRACULA as envisaged by Coppola and also the rather dark an off beat DRACULA UNTOLD as well as many films which attempted to place the count in a contemporary setting, whether they were successful or not is another matter.
Which brings me to the most recent apparition to hit the small screen over the festive and new year period, DRACULA, adapted by the same writing team that re-booted the iconic Sherlock Holmes, successfully or not? Well that I suppose is all down to individual taste. Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat did bring the popularity of the Master sleuth back into vogue via the series Sherlock, but there is the argument if he had ever gone out of the publics mind at all. DRACULA opened New Years day on BBC 1, many had been awaiting the return of the Count, but also an equal number of fans were dreading it because they were not sure which route the writers would take. I watched with an open mind and tried to dismiss all images of past vampire movies from my memory, which is hard task itself. I was also looking forward to the musical score, which is by David Arnold and Michael Price, the same composer collaboration on SHERLOCK. A collaboration that did bring forth several interesting and haunting musical moments.
However, on the new series opening, I was somewhat put out to see that it began with two nuns basically interrogating a dead looking individual who we soon discover to be Johnathan Harker (John Heffernan) Were there nuns in the Stoker novel? If I am wrong here I apologise, but it has been a while since I read it, there was a tiny section I think that had a convent mentioned, but other than that? But, go with it, it is after all an adaptation, which like all adaptations are based upon maybe characters or even a scenario included within the original work. Harker tells his story to the nuns, one in particular Sister Agatha ( Dolly Wells) who questions him and enquires about the Count and Harker’s experience at castle Dracula is more focused on the task whilst the other sits quietly listening. It is a strange conversation, because the Nun is like no ordinary nun, and confesses that she does not believe in God to Harker, and then asks him did he have sexual intercourse with Count Dracula? Which left me somewhat puzzled, why would a nun ask this? Harker’s account of his time at castle Dracula is a nightmarish one, the nuns sitting listening intently , but every so often Sister Agatha questioning him deeper about his host. It was at this point I longed for something that resembled the Stoker story, which thankfully did manifest itself, and briefly there it was DRACULA as we know and love or loath or even fear it. Harker is driven to the castle, enters and begins his meal which has been left for him, the Count (Claes Bang) who is at this stage a haggard and ancient looking individual, enters and introduces himself to Harker. Harker offers the Count a drink to which he replies “No, I don’t drink (pauses) wine”. He then tells Harker he longs to go to London as the people in Transylvania lack flavour, which is something that Harker corrects saying “I think you mean character”.
The Count relays to Harker that he will not return to England the next day, but he will stay ay Castle Dracula for a month, to teach the Count English or at least better English. Harker is shocked, but sort of resigns himself to this situation. And this is where things begin to move faster, and also become somewhat hammy and stupid. The Count is obviously feeding off of Harker as he sleeps, and this is done well because we see the count becoming younger and more agile whilst Harker begins to look older and gaunt. We also see Harker exploring te nightmarish castle and sense his desperation as he can find no way out in the labyrinth of corridors and tunnels. The story goes back and forth from the interrogation with Sister Agnes to castle Dracula as Harker continues to tell the nuns of the horrendous times at the castle. I will say here that I was impressed with the sets and the staging of the production, but it was the dialogue I began to have a problem with, especially the Count himself, at first the accent was connivingly eastern European, but as he grew more youthful and stronger his accent slipped and became something that resembled more east end than east Europe.
There were the stupid one liners aswell, which for me evoked a similar aura to the wise cracks of James Bond when Roger Moore was in the role of 007, rather than a proud, noble if not evil Prince of Transylvania that had fought the Turks and vanquished many enemies, but there were no mention of these as is laid out in Stokers novel. Then we see that the so called journal Harker had kept, apparently contained none of what he had related to Sister Agnes, instead it was more of a love letter to Dracula, Dracula is God, Dracula is good etc.
It’s a funny thing I thought that DRACULA was a kind of love story but was a tale of a love lost in tragic circumstances, and the Count discovering the beautiful Mina (Harkers fiancée) and imagining it was his lost love, not a love story between Harker and the Count? But maybe that is the Coppola version filtering through snd mingling with my hazy memories if the book. By the time the stories both caught up with each other and were on the same timeline, I was even more confused, Nuns armed with sharpened stakes, and Sister Agnes, refusing to invite the vampire into the convent, the stand off between the Nun and the Count was impressive, each one attempting to get inside each other’s minds and the Count trying to trick her into letting him have access to the convent. It is at this point we discover that her full name is Agnes Van Helsing. so the plot thickens, or does it just now become even more silly?
The transformation of the Count from wolf to himself was also impressive and something that was touched upon in John Badham’s DRACULA which starred Frank Langella. Hammer films I don’t think ever entered into the realms of Dracula changing shape or persona.(apart from in THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES) So, the Count eventually gains access to the convent because of Harker, and decapitates the Mother Superior before setting a pack of fierce and blood lusting wolves upon the remainder of the nuns, sitting and delivering such classic lines as “I AM UNDEAD , NOT UNREASONABLE, and OH THAT’S GOT TO HURT”. And before the carnage begins, throwing the Mother Superiors head over his shoulder in the same fashion a bride tosses her bouquet at waiting women, into the assembled Nuns.
Its all a bit bizarre I think, but was it entertaining, well actually no not really. Do I want to see more, Umm, again no not really, I might be wrong about this series, but somehow, I don’t think so? Only time will tell, as I can already see there is a very mixed reaction to this new style DRACULA.
The score by David Arnold and Michael Price, was nothing outstanding, even the theme for me was lacking something, but I will say I never actually heard any of the score whilst watching the episode, so maybe its doing its job and enhancing and supporting, God knows this production needs all the help and support it can get.
Bang has his moments as Dracula, but it is the one liners that spoil this, without the jokes and the sometimes too modern sounding dialogue, this could have been something worth watching. In finishing, If I was at the BBC I probably would have re-run the 1977 production, at least it was credible, this new version is more like a British comedy from the 1960’s or 1970’s, Maybe it should have been called I,M ALRIGHT DRAC?