‘The cross speaks of a holy virtue which you do not possess…’
I spoke recently how my love for A Christmas Carol meant that I struggled to enjoy the huge changes imposed on Dickens’ novel in the recent TV adaptation. Well, Bram Stoker’s Dracula casts a shadow almost as looming as Dickens’ work, and so, here we are again. Any changes must be justified or questions will inevitably be asked. That being said, rehashing the same old story is also a non-starter. A difficult puzzle for Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat – the team behind Sherlock – to ponder…
As in the novel, Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) arrives at the decrepit but enticing castle of Count Dracula (Claes Bang) under the pretence of completing some paperwork. That is pretty much where the comparisons with the novel conclude. And for the first two episodes, the deviations and tweaks mostly work. Harker escapes to a nunnery and is sheltered by Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) as he tells his gruesome story to both Van Helsing and the viewer.
Heffernan is suitably damaged as the hapless Harker but it is Claes Bang as the evil Count that really injects the whole thing with an unpredictable charisma. Charming, cunning and predatory, Bang provides a perfect update on the character of Dracula that ensures that those first two episodes felt fresh and compelling, without the need to transpose the setting to the modern day. The decision to do just that in the third episode then felt eye-rollingly unnecessary and smacks of the same hubris and smarmy overconfidence that made the later episodes of Sherlock pretty unwatchable.
The twists and turns of the second episode aboard the Dementer felt both earned and wickedly exciting but by the third episode, those same twists became tired and predictable. The move to a modern setting was jarring, and the return of Dolly Wells as a different incarnation of Van Helsing also fell flat. The introduction of Lydia West as the tragic heroine Lucy Westenra ensured the whole thing wasn’t a total bust, but watching that final episode made me long for what could have been.
In the end, Dracula was too bold and too daring for it’s own good. The story has endured because it is a good one, make it more relevant sure, but don’t change a great story for the sake of it. Despite the best efforts of Bang – who really was sensational in the titular role – Dracula must reluctantly go down as a missed opportunity.