Despite the blood and gore, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s absurd, contemporary twist on Bram Stoker’s Dracula is as pale as a corpse. Don’t let it in.
Creators: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Cast: Claes Bang, Dolly Wells, John Jeffernan, Morfydd Clark, Mathew Beard, Lydia West
Seasons: 1 (2020)
The show is a dull telling of Dracula’s tale
The vampire mythology is a well that keeps giving, even though countless writers and filmmakers have drawn its carmine waters. The latest is the three-part series Dracula by Sherlock writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. They’ve attempted a cheeky horror story based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but the outcome is painfully anaemic.
It begins in the late nineteenth century with Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) arriving at Dracula’s daunting castle. There he meets the gnarled, old count (Claes Bang), who speaks with a thick Romanian accent. Harker is preyed upon by the count and by the time he realises his host has been leaching him, he’s a wasted shadow of himself. Dracula, on the other hand, invigorated by fresh blood, looks young and now speaks with a posh British accent. The man absorbs the accents, tics and memories of those he feeds on. As he keeps saying, “Blood is lives.”
Not even a feminist vampire hunter can save it from the stake
Gatiss and Moffat have tried to do a Sherlock on Dracula, introducing an absurd element into the narrative. This takes the form of Agatha van Helsing (Dolly Wells), a ballsy, straight-talking, vampire-hunting nun in a “marriage of convenience” with god for the sake of “a roof over my head”. Harker escapes the count’s castle and is brought to van Helsing, who’s determined to get to the bottom of vampire myths. Why are vampires afraid of the cross? Why do they shrivel before sunlight? Why do they have to be invited into a place? How does Dracula choose his victims? She’s convinced there’s more to these mysteries than the received wisdom. She gets her answer in the end but it won’t knock you off your seat.
A little more than halfway through, the story sails into the future after a blood-soaked voyage Dracula undertakes to England. Jack Seward (Matthew Beard) and Lucy Westenra (Lydia West) are 20-somethings in the present and Gatiss plays Renfield. The inmate of the insane asylum in Stoker’s novel is Dracula’s lawyer.
Gatiss and Moffat have been gender-sensitive by making van Helsing a woman. Dracula makes a particularly gory entry to her abbey and she meets him fearlessly, tempting him with her blood and mocking him in front of her fellow nuns. But she’s simply not funny and after a point, her tirade against Dracula, covered in plasma and prancing naked at the gate, begins to grate. Equally feeble is the shift to the future just so that a bunch of scientists can unravel Dracula’s mystery by testing his blood.
Claes Bang is the one bright, red spot
The only robust spot in this pallid show is Claes Bang. The Danish actor drew the international gaze when he played a curator in Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s 2017, award-winning film The Square. In Dracula, Bang plays the count as a suave, droll, entirely ruthless aristocrat with a delicious British accent. He deserves a better vampyric vehicle for his talent.