Shiny Shelf


Dracula

By Mark Clapham on 03 January 2007

The BBC’s drama output has become increasingly adventurous and imaginative in the last year or so, generally with a great deal of success. ‘Torchwood’ and the BBC1 ‘Robin Hood’ have been popular with the public if not necessarily the critics, BBC4 has resurrected the ‘Ghost Stories for Christmas’ slot, and Billie Piper is running around shooting people in a series of Philip Pullman adaptations. All good.

Well, there had to be an exception to the rule, and here it is in the form of a new adaptation of ‘Dracula’. BBC TV hasn’t adapted Bram Stoker’s book for thirty years, and with a more fantastical bent to their recent productions, now is as good a time as any for them to have another crack. After all, literary adaptations and period pieces are the things the BBC does best, so it’s a sound basis for a stab at popular horror for the holidays. Unfortunately, the tack taken by writer Stewart Harcourt tries to be radical, but instead comes across like an overenthusiastic GCSE lit essay on the book.

The story and character of ‘Dracula’ have been twisted into numerous odd shapes over the years, with Dracula himself having such vastly diverse interpretations as the slaphead vampire of Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’, the Count in ‘Sesame Street’ and, even more embarrassingly, Gerard Butler in ‘Dracula 2000’. There are many ways you can tell this story, none will ever be definitive and all are as, or more than, valid reading of the text than the examples cited above.

Where Harcourt goes wrong is not in changing the story around – making Dr Seward the hero, introducing a cult who bring Dracula to England, introducing a sub-plot about Dracula stealing Jonathan Harker’s identity – but in his motivations for doing so. Harcourt has taken the subtextual concerns of ‘Dracula’ that have informed many an adaptation – Victorian fears of syphilis, a fascination with sex and death, the search for meaning in an increasingly rational world – and has brought them to the fore of both the plot and dialogue.

Thus Dracula is brought to these shores as a means to cure an aristocrat of inherited syphilis, Lucy Westenra gets a little speech about wanting to see a shipwreck because dead sailors excite her, and when Van Helsing turns up he lectures the characters on how they shouldn’t try to cure illness through fringe medicines or foreign visitors, but stick with faith in Jesus instead. What?

By foregrounding what was once subtext, Harcourt leaves a story with lots of bold statements but no depth to it, an adolescent poem to sex and death that fails to tie together satisfactorily.

Which is a shame, as there’s some good casting and production values here. Marc Warren offers another eccentric turn as Dracula but can do little to save the dialogue he’s given, while Sophia Myles and Rafe Spall are under-utilised as Lucy and Jonathan respectively. Only Tom Burke really gets chance to impress in the role of Dr Seward (now a Harley Street doctor rather than practising at an asylum), his second notable appearance on TV this Christmas after a supporting role in ‘No 13’ over on BBC4. Director Brian Eagles shoots the whole thing nicely, and as mentioned earlier the BBC doesn’t often go wrong producing period dramas, so the sets and costumes are just right.

Nice idea, decent production, shame about the script dragging the whole thing down.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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