“I am longing to be with you, and by the sea, where we can talk together freely and build our castles in the air”
Excerpt from the book “Dracula” by Bram Stoker
This is a very tough review to do. Especially when the character you are trying to review has been appearing in umpteen number of films.
What if I were to tell you that Count Dracula is right wing? Can Dracula catch the fancy of a Kolkata Doctor and his mute daughter on a small ship in the 1800’s? What if Count Dracula’s main opponent is a “woman”? What if he sits on a chess game with his opponent? Do diseases like cancer affect him as he gorges on the blood of his victims? Is this all real?
These were the questions I was trying to answer while watching “Dracula” which has been produced by Netflix with BBC. “Dracula” is a three episode mini series running over 270 minutes. The show is developed by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss who have produced shows like “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” for BBC. The stars of the show include Danish Actor Claus Baeng as Dracula, Dolly Wells as Agatha /Dr Zoe Van Helsing and a host of talented actors from across the globe. The show is now streaming on “Netflix” in India.
The aim of this essay is to deep dive into who Count Dracula is, how important is he to popular cinema and culture, and to review the Netflix/BBC reboot.
THE ORIGINAL STORY OF DRACULA BY AUTHOR BRAM STOKER
The Book “Dracula” written by Bram Stoker was first published in 1897 as a work of Gothic horror. It essentially tells the story of Count Dracula who lives in Transylvania and is visited by Dr Jonathan Harker for a work assignment. He also is the husband of the Count’s former lover Mina Harker, some hundred years ago in her previous birth. So, he imprisons Dr Harker and makes his voyage to England where he can reunite with Mina. The original story has Count Dracula mad in love with Mina and shows that he waited for her for centuries to reunite. In the meanwhile, he is a vampire who lives long by drinking the blood of his victims. But he is stopped by Dr Abraham Van Helsing who is a renowned exorcist and vampire hunter. In the end, Mina and Jonathan Harker are reunited and Dracula is defeated and killed.
THE FILMS FEATURING COUNT DRACULA
Ever since the book came out in 1897, films like Nosferatu (1925), to Dracula in the 1930’s to 1950’s to 1970’s to the 1992 version made by Francis Ford Coppola starring Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. Renowned actors such as Christopher Lee, Frank Langella and Oldman have portrayed this titular character. The last big movie was Van Helsing starring Hugh Jackman as Helsing and Richard Roxburgh as Dracula. Over 30 feature films and TV Shows have been made. Even the animated “Hotel Transylvania” has a Dracula in it. Dracula is an integral part of films and popular culture. It won’t be a mistake to call “Zombie” film genre as an offshoot of the “blood drinking” plotline of Dracula. Hence, “The Walking Dead” also owes its allegiance to Dracula in a limited way.
The NEW Rebooted Dracula for the “Netflix” audience!
The story of “Dracula” (2020) is a mishmash of sorts. It retains its original characters but it very skillfully changes their orientation for the new age audience. “Dracula” is divided into 3 episodes of about 90 minutes each. Each episode is unique and is set in a different timeline.
Episode 1 : Rules of The Beast
In the year 1897, the first episode introduces us to Dr Jonathan Harker who arrives at the home of Count Dracula to finish a legal documentation assignment. Dracula takes him hostage and prepares to leave for England on a ship. But Harker escapes and takes refuge in a church and reunites with Mina in the city of Budapest where he is followed by Dracula. It’s here he encounters his nemesis, Sister Agatha Van Helsing and her spirited group of nuns. The episode brings their rivalry to light.
Episode 2: Blood Vessel
The second episode takes Count Dracula on a sea voyage to England. He boards the ship “Demeter” where he meets a variety of people from across the globe. As time passes by , he very skillfully feeds on most of the people and here is again stopped by Sister Agatha and a spirited bunch of fighters where Dracula is thrown deep below in the ocean. He rises only after 123 years in the year 2020 where he is accidentally discovered by the divers of a research institution called “The Jonathan Harker Foundation”.
Episode 3 : The Dark Compass
The Third Episode brings Count Dracula to the world of 2020 where he creates his own little ecosystem. He is initially taken hostage by The Jonathan Harker Foundation, which is a very advanced research group which works in the biotech sector. But Dracula gets out with the help of a lawyer! He finds his muse in Lucy Westerna, a local girl who likes to flirt around with a lot of men. In the end, he has duel with Dr Zoe Van Helsing, the great granddaughter of Agatha Van Helsing.
HOW IS DRACULA DIFFERENT NOW?
Writers Moffat and Gatiss have created a unique narrative for Dracula by creating the right blend of Bram Stoker’s original characters but at the same time have innovated and created new story twists and unlikely character relationships. For example, the Van Helsing character is now a ‘woman’ and that too a nun. By adding this change itself, Moffat and Gatiss have created a “Batman Vs Joker” relationship where there is immense respect for each other even though they both are fierce rivals. They strikingly look like ‘lovers’.
It is also shown that, Dracula has deep political undertones. In his many conversations with Van Helsing, he talks of the exploitation of the ‘peasants’ by rich landlords. He got to know all this as he fed on their blood for centuries. Sister Agatha also talks of the fact that despite being Count Dracula and a rich man, he still follows a certain set of rules.
The checklist where people feel that Dracula is afraid of garlic, the cross, sunlight, etc will be in for a big surprise.
Danish Actor Claes Bang has an uncanny resemblance to the Late Christopher Lee who played Dracula in the 1950’s. He has deep dived into the character and has bought humor and grace to the part. He uses humor and panache to prey on his victims. There is a concerted effort to show that he is determined to ‘just drink blood’ and do nothing else like having sex, relationships with his prey. His tall, well built frame coupled with his various accents look appealing. He can be called a “predatory Casanova”.
British Actor Dolly Wells comes across a fairly cerebral crusader in both her roles as Sister Agatha and Dr Zoe. Her confidence against Dracula comes out in each and every scene. Dracula is far more powerful but Wells brings a breath of fresh air of positivity, relentless optimism to her character.
The supporting cast is also very powerful. I was particularly impressed by Indian-Brit actor Sacha Dhawan who plays Dr Sharma.
“Dracula” is a nice innovative look at the seminal character. But it has its own world and is filled with fine nuances. I would give the show a 7 out of 10 for its brilliant imagery, production design and super acting by Claes Bang and Dolly Wells. Episodes 1 and 2 are superb but Episode 3 disappoints the horror fan in me.