Dracula Review: The Prince of Darkness Shines in this Beautifully Morbid Mini-SeriesJanuary 14, 2020
Dracula has fallen on lean times as of late, taking a back seat to such vampire outings as Underworld and The Twilight saga, series trying desperately to drag in new audiences while at the same time making vampires almost comical. Dracula himself was rarely seen in a ‘good light’, save for the odd movie and guest appearance on television. However, BBC One and Netflix have teamed up to breathe new light into the Prince, giving audiences four and a half hours of great storytelling, interesting twists and characters you will really get invested in.
Adapted for television by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, who people may recognize as the minds behind Sherlock, the three-part series manages to entertain and be clever, while at the same time reveling in its absurdity. There are weird flourishes of drama and violence with comedic elements strewn about that all somehow fit together. As they did with Sherlock, Moffat and Gatiss twist and turn this version to fit their own vision, something that is both fascinating and predictably odd in spots, but a wonderful adaptation of what could only be described as intimidating source material.
The three parts are broken up into two-time frames, basically the Before and the Now. The first two episodes, “The Rules of the Beast” and “Blood Vessel” cover the Before, with the final episode “The Dark Compass” covering the Now. The basic core of the story is still there, and in fine form right from the beginning. We meet a very ill and transforming Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan), who is spilling his tale to a nun named Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells) whose performance in the first two episodes was wonderful, stealing most scenes she was in. Harker, who is a lawyer, was sent to Count Dracula’s castle to sort out some legal issues, only to find out the Count made plans ensuring he never leave alive.
It was fun and curious to see Dracula (played very well by Claes Bang) spin his story of wanting to sail to England to set up shop there, while not hiding the fact that he wants to do it in style. The ego, the sense of everything needing to be bigger and better, is explored more in the final episode but regardless, it was great to see this idea explored in more detail in this series. If you think about it, who wouldn’t want to live large when you’ve been alive for so long and boredom can be as dangerous as sunlight or the cross. When you are this powerful, slinking in the shadows is fine at certain times but never has the ‘hiding in plain sight’ adage been truer than here.
The first two episodes spin the story of Harker, Mina, Sister Agatha and Dracula and how their lives are all intertwined in strange and different ways. They have all the tropes of horror and vampire lore that most Dracula fans will love and enjoy. Huge castles, strange stop-motion movements, shadows, blood and so much more paint the picture of a much bigger story to come. While “The Rules of the Beast” tackles the beginnings of the Harker, Mina, Dracula and Sister Agatha relationship, “Blood Vessel” is a different beast altogether, focusing on the voyage to England aboard the ship Demeter.
It is fascinating to watch Dracula’s master plan unfold, from his specific details in terms of Harker and securing funds and power, to his careful choosing of who travels with him on the Demeter. As with the final episode, “The Dark Compass” there is great attention paid to Dracula’s enormous ego, from lavish places of residence, clothes and people he chooses to feed off of. There is always a plan, always wheels in motion, but it seems even with the Prince of Darkness, someone of great age and power who should know better, ego still can be a hurdle that can’t be overcome very easily.
I had a hard time with the final episode. I don’t think I was fully prepared for the 123 year time jump into the future, after two excellent episodes that were fully entrenched in the Dracula lore. However, after sleeping on it I could appreciate it much more, the story that it told and how the modern approach actually brought the whole series as a whole together. It was a bold and interesting move, one that really shouldn’t have surprised me considering Moffat and Gatiss were involved.
In the end, the mini-series was a success because of some bold and different storytelling and great performances by the lead characters. At four and a half hours total, it was able to delve deeper into some characters and give us some wonderful moments we have never been able to experience before. Here’s hoping that some more of the great monsters from the past will also get this mini-series treatment as Dracula did.
Four stars out of five