November 25, 2020

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BBC Dracula - Jonathan Harker played by John Heffernan

Review of BBC’s Dracula Ep 1 The Rules of the Beast

BBC Dracula - The driver is Dracula

For some time I have been looking forward to the Dracula mini-series co-produced by the BBC and Netflix. It’s that time of the year I am in the mood for a dark and mysterious journey to Transylvania. Dracula is being produced by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat who previously developed Sherlock.

BBC Dracula - Jonathan Harker played by John Heffernan

Dracula is based on the many folk tales of immortal creatures sucking the life out of the living. These were all brought together by Irish author Bram Stoker in his seminal Gothic horror novel Dracula in 1897. Fans of this work have long complained that no proper adaptations has ever been made. The story is quite macabre and gory, more so than people might remember. This version of Dracula is billed as the ultimate adaptation. And so far one episode in it is very true, even if it does deviate from the source material.

BBC Dracula - An old count Dracula

A Familiar start to Dracula

Dracula starts off easy enough. Lawyer Jonathan Harker makes his way from England to Transylvania to conclude the purchase of an estate the count has made. At the nearly abandoned castle Jonathan (John Heffernan) meets an aging count Dracula who somewhat forcefully invites him to stay longer. The fact nobody else appears to be at the castle and the place is set up like a maze does much to put the viewer in the proper mood. A letter Jonathan reads from his fiancée Mina (Morfydd Clark) adds a feeling of salaciousness.

BBC Dracula - Agatha Van Helsing

Now I am not going to recap the entire episode. I believe most of you are aware of basics of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. With 3 episodes of 90 minutes the creative developers have gone for a long form and added to the plot. At the convent where Jonathan Harker recovers from his encounter at Dracula’s castle he recounts his experiences to a nun – Sister Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells).

BBC Dracula - Claes Bang as Count Dracula

The dialogue between the two is certainly the main attraction in this episode. Sister Agatha shows little regards for shame and even asks on multiple occasions whether Jonathan had sexual encounters with count Dracula. Some of it did feel forced, the creative staff wanting to create the suggestion that anything goes. Eventually Jonathan’s tale ends and Sister Agatha can reveal some hard truths. Unlike the book in this adaptation Jonathan is very dead, what Dracula did to him cannot be reversed.

BBC Dracula - Nun decapitated

Dracula and the headless nun

Meanwhile Dracula visits the convents and through subterfuge has himself invited in – which he needs before entering. There he quickly and in a whimsical fashion kills all the nuns. Certainly Claes Bang who plays the count had a time of his life acting out these scenes. Though the headless nun part may have gone too far. Sister Agatha and Jonathan’s fiancée Mina hide in the laboratory, but Dracula gains entrance by using the dead Jonathan’s face as a mask. The episode ends with Mina screaming…

BBC Dracula - Mina Harker

One episode in and I think Dracula is a success. That said, there a number of gripes. The first is that this adaptation changes the story to such a degree it cannot be said to be a faithful adaptation. Though it does offer a chance to see something new. If Agatha and Mina survive their encounter it would be a gender bender if they hunt Dracula down. Another gripe is the actress playing Agatha Van Helsing. Her attempt at a Dutch accent is genuine but highly distracting. She has all the best lines but they are brought excruciatingly.

BBC Dracula - Count Dracula wearing a Jonathan mask

My final gripe

Claes Bang in contrast does a perfect Dracula impression. Finally I disliked one major plot point. Jonathan and Agatha are in a mistaken believe that he managed to escape Dracula though the use of a religious cross. Neither of them suspect until too late it may have been the sunlight reflected of the cross that hurt their foe. The whole scene was problematic and made it hard to follow some quick plotlines that followed.

This evening and tomorrow evening Dracula will continue on the BBC.