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‘Dracula’ review: Messy first season presents low bar for further adventures of opera-cloaked vampire

Season 1 of ‘Dracula’

Season 1 of ‘Dracula’  

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Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat cannot make up its mind whether they want their mini-series to be taken seriously or played for laughs

The idea of a Dracula reboot by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat was thrilling. Gatiss and Moffat are the ones who dragged that consulting detective who hangs out at 221 Baker Street from the world of hansom cabs and dew-dappled cobblestones to the 21st century in BBC’s Sherlock.

Dracula follows Sherlock’s format of three 90-minute episodes. With Sue Vertue who also produced Sherlock as producer, one should not be blamed for having great expectations of a new take on the most famous vampire of them all. The trailer looked suitably gross — the fly in the eye reminded me of Catch 22 and Yossarian’s increasing frustration as Orr implacably insists that there are flies in Appleby’s eyes, which he cannot see, “because he has flies in his eyes.”

 

Danish actor and musician Claes Bang looks hot as the title character and visions of a repeat of Benedict Cumberbatch’s sexy, high-functioning sociopath turn as Sherlock began to form.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is the Gothic tale of an English lawyer, Jonathan Harker, who goes to Translyvannia to help Count Dracula buy land in London. When he reaches the Count’s castle he realises Dracula is a vampire and planning to unleash his plague of the undead on England’s green and pleasant land. Harker barely escapes with his life and returns to England to defeat the Count with the help of a Dutch doctor, Abraham Van Helsing. Dracula established many ground rules about vampires including abhorrence of garlic, lack of reflections and profusion of bats and flies.

 

Dracula is truly undead and has been popping up on screens with metronomic regularity. There have been versions that are serious, scary, gory, funny and everything in between.

There was Francis Ford Coppola’s rather portentously named Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) with Keanu Reeves (Harker), Winona Ryder as Mina, Harker’s fiancée, Gary Oldman as the blood thirsty Count and Anthony Hopkins hamming it up as Van Helsing.

There was also Mel Brooks’ howlarious Dracula: Dead and Loving it (1995) with Leslie Nielsen as Dracula, Mel Brooks as Van Helsing and Peter MacNicol as the fly-eating solicitor, Thomas Renfield.

So when Gatiss and Moffat spoke of being faithful and faithless to the original text, it all sounded so promising. But alas it was not to be. There is a gender swap with Van Helsing turning into Sister Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells).

Dracula
  • Season 1
  • Episodes: 3
  • Run time: 90 minutes
  • Created by Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat

The tone swinging wildly from gory horror to humour was unsettling to say the least. On the one hand, there are rotting nails, lots of blood, the aforementioned fly in the eye and on the other you have lines like, “I am undead, not unreasonable,” and when Harker tells Dracula he is a monster, the count replies, “You are a lawyer, nobody is perfect.” There is Dracula saying, “I cant wait to eat some atheists,” Agatha saying, “I am dying but don’t get distracted,” you get the drift.

The first episode, The Rules of the Beast, introduces Harker (John Heffernan) in the monastery recounting the harrowing story of his imprisonment at the hands of Dracula. There are all the things we have come to expect: the scary coach ride, the lack of servants, the Count’s mouldering castle, the fear of the cross and the scary house guests among other things. Harker is telling his story to Sister Agatha at the convent. The Count comes in search of Harker and crosses swords with Agatha.

 

Dracula moves into whodunnit mode in the second episode, Blood Vessel, which is also the strongest. The count is travelling to London on board the Demeter and the passengers, including an Indian, Sharma (Sacha Dhawan), from the University of Calcutta, get picked off one by one. “I have a particular gift of eliminating suspects” as the count succinctly puts it. Literary allusions come thick and fast as the chess game between Agatha and the Count remind one of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the chess game with death.

Episode 3, The Dark Compass, devolves into silliness and the inexplicable time jump does not help either. The tragic “bloofer” lady, Lucy (Lydia West) gets short shrift just like Mina , Dracula becomes a silly playboy and it all gets very annoying including Agatha’s accent. Gatiss makes a belated entry as Renfeld, absent-mindedly eating flies.

While the reverential fog was lifted off Holmes to present a fast-paced Sherlock with enough in it for the Doyle fan and the newbie, Dracula cannot make up its mind whether it wants to be taken seriously or played for laughs and suffers rather badly for it.

With the show doing very well, there are talks of Season 2. While Sherlock waited till Season 3 to unravel, the messy first season of Dracula presents a low bar for further adventures of the opera cloaked vampire.

Dracula streams on Netflix

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 10:15:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/dracula-review-messy-first-season-presents-low-bar-for-further-adventures-of-opera-cloaked-vampire/article30543400.ece

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