As a connoisseur of Dracula on screen and having read Bram Stoker’s novel many times, it was my gothic duty to watch the new BBC-Netflix miniseries of Dracula (2020).
Show-runner Steven Moffat told the Radio Times:
“I hope people have nightmares and jump and all that, but it is actually funny. It is actually entertainment. It’s not the kind of horror that harrows you and makes you feel that the world is a miserable, wretched place or whatever.”
And I think this is a fairly accurate review of the series. This Dracula is creepy but a little goofy, kind of like an update of the classic Hammer horror films but for 270 minutes and with fancier special effects.
The dialog can be amusing, such as Dracula repeating the line from the Bela Lugosi version, “I never drink … wine” and making punny use of words like “drained” and “eating.” Claes Bang as the Count gets a lot of snarky lines, which comes off as rather modern 21st-century, not Victorian (or more ancient, which he should be). You’ll either dig that or find it annoying.
Episode one entirely focuses on Jonathan Harker’s experience at Castle Dracula, and this dwells in detail on the horrors he endures, more so than the book does, plus changing things from the book. This is emphasized by framing the story as told to Sister Agatha — in the book, a kindly nun who nurses him, in this series, a vampire hunter.
Episode two is all about Dracula’s ship voyage on the Demeter to England, where he kills most of the passengers and crew. In the book, this is described by a newspaper article and the captain’s log as only a storm and some of the crew mysteriously disappearing (there are no passengers at all).
One significant thematic change is that many of Dracula’s killing bites of men are framed as sexual encounters where the male victims imagine they’re being seduced by their human female lovers at first. Even Sister Agatha makes a pointed comment about this at the very start of the first episode. But there’s less overt sexualization when Dracula kills female victims — it’s sometimes shown as romantic but not as explicitly sexual as with the men (where the men see Dracula as female). I suppose you could see this as heterosexual Victorian men would more easily respond to the seductive appeal of a vampire if it was cloaked in as a familiar female. Although in the book, Jonathan Harker is seduced by three actual female vampire “brides” so there’s no need for subterfuge.
Another subterfuge is of a pair of male lovers, one of whom is killed by Dracula. The surviving partner is baited into attempting revenge on the Count who (since he can read minds) taunts the man for his closeted queerness and for his race. It’s uncomfortable from a 21st-century point of view, but I thought that it worked for Dracula the undead asshole teasing a black Victorian man.
Just when I was pondering these issues and I was almost won over with the other many, many reinterpretations of the novel’s plot, BAM, episode three opens 123 years later, WT-ever-loving-frock! With no real explanation except Dracula ‘slept in.’ massive eyerolls He’s finally reached London, and he meets 21st-century versions of Lucy Westerna, Dr. John Seward, etc. Talk about making things “relatable” for a modern audience, ugh. This was some next-level BS. I could almost buy it if the entire story was set in the current period with only a little flashback to establish where Dracula originated a la a serious version of Love at First Bite (1979), which was an excellent vampire flick. But it makes little sense to spend two-thirds of the series in the 19th century and then fast-forward in time.
Alas, there isn’t much to talk about in terms of historical costumes. The men are wearing late Victorian suits, and there’s only a couple women in the Victorian episodes.
What do you think of the latest Dracula?