Friday, January 10, 2020

TV Review: Dracula (2020)

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss of Sherlock fame are back with another television take on an iconic character, this time in the form of a three-episode adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic Dracula.  And well, it's very good, but it's not Sherlock.  Or Dracula really. 

Image result for dracula netflix

The miniseries closely follows certain beats from the novel but deviates wildly from others.  Some of these inventions are effective, some not so much.  As someone who's been waiting three decades for a truly faithful screen adaptation (I love Francis Ford Coppola's version, and it's pretty close but still not totally authentic), I'm always vexxed when someone puts out a new Dracula film or TV series that almost compulsively reinvents the wheel.  First off, the book got this story right the first time; Stoker's version is absolutely loaded with chilling moments of dread.  Second, at a certain point the idea of "doing something different" is no longer doing something different.  If everyone is radically changing the story, your "bold new take" is neither bold nor new.  In this case Moffat and Gatiss start out with Stoker's material but diverge within the first half hour, to the point that by the end of the first episode we're in a totally different narrative space.  By the third episode we've strayed so far (aside from some characters and moments that parallel the novel) that the show can hardly even be called Dracula.

But enough about the show's lack of faithfulness.  Is it any good?  Yes, it's quite well-made.  As with Sherlock, the writing is crisp and darkly humorous at times (though often the dialogue is far too modern sounding), and information is doled out gradually, creating some shocking plot twists.  The performances are all strong, particularly charismatic Finnish actor Claes Bang as the Count (who's written a little too charmingly funny for my taste but that's not his fault), a suave, sardonic and pragmatic vampire who takes on the skills and personality traits of his victims and thus has to be discriminating about who he feeds on.  Another standout is Dolly Wells as Sister Agatha, an amalgam of a classic character and a new one, who serves as Dracula's crafty and resilient nemesis.  The cinematography and art direction are mostly impressive and atmospheric, often mirroring that of Coppola's version (though they sometimes betray the modest budget of a TV series as opposed to a feature film), and several of the visual choices are obvious nods to nearly every previous Dracula film (as well as moments that recall The Shining, The Fly, and Interview With the Vampire).  If nothing else this series certainly rewards sharp-eyed fans of the genre.
Another interesting aspect of the show is the fact that it somewhat deconstructs vampire lore, asking practical questions like "Why exactly does Dracula fear crosses?" and "What does Dracula see when he looks in a mirror?"  These queries pay off in unexpected and poignant ways, allowing us to understand Dracula's point of view if not sympathizing with it.  Being a vampire in the real world would be neither glamorous nor all that much fun, and the show's creators recognize this, depicting realistic applications of Dracula's powers and limits.

Overall Dracula comes across as a labor of love, by and for Dracula enthusiasts, and maybe that's one of its faults in a way; the show's creators took for granted that everyone knows how the original novel plays out, and thus designed the narrative to turn audience expectations on their head.  In doing so they gave us in many ways a story that can't truly be considered an adaptation of the novel.  The show might've been more effective had it been about a different vampire character; for me there are certain story beats that need to happen for this to still be a Dracula tale.  The show is certainly good enough to earn a recommendation, but don't go in expecting anything very close to the novel.  It's more of a reinvention than an adaptation.  But it is entertaining, sometimes funny, often disturbing, fairly graphic, and a good bit of horror fun.

I guess what I'm saying is I just really want Robert Eggers to do a faithful four-hour Dracula movie....

I give this show *** out of ****.

Thanks for reading - subscribe to our mailing list, and follow us on Twitter, MeWe, Mix, Facebook and YouTube!

No comments:

Post a Comment