mon 15/07/2024

Dracula, BBC One review - horrific, and not in a good way | reviews, news & interviews

Dracula, BBC One review - horrific, and not in a good way

Dracula, BBC One review - horrific, and not in a good way

Superfluous remake of Bram Stoker's novel outstays its welcome

The grateful dead: 'the name's Bang... Claes Bang'

“Bela Lugosi’s dead,” as Bauhaus sang, in memory of the star of 1931’s Dracula. But of course death has never been an impediment to the career of the enfanged Transylvanian blood-sucker. Filmed and televisualised almost as frequently as Sherlock Holmes, Count Dracula would doubtless join the cockroaches as the only entities to survive a thermonuclear holocaust.

Whether we needed another new TV version is at least debatable, let alone this lumbering behemoth (for BBC One) from the conjoined brains of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, comprising three 90-minute slabs over consecutive nights. Moffat and Gatiss hit big with their Conan Doyle overhaul Sherlock, which at its best was brilliantly inventive and quick-witted, while featuring a highly successful double act at its core. However, developing characterful relationships isn’t a priority in this new Dracula, with the Jonathan Harker/Mina Murray partnership, the motor of Bram Stoker’s novel, largely parked offscreen (at least for the first two episodes – I haven’t done three yet). Hogging centre stage for most of the time is the title character – it’s all about him, and he’s not going to let us forget it – so how you react to him will define your response to the series.

The job went to Danish actor Claes Bang (star of the 2017 art-world critique The Square), though whether it was sold to him as a comedy, a satire or a plain old gore fest isn’t clear. Elements of grand guignol and squirmy body horror are peppered through the action to make sure we’re still awake. For instance the opening scene zooms in on Harker after he’s escaped from Dracula’s teetering castle, and he looks like a Chernobyl survivor after a detour through Auschwitz. The moment when a fly crawls behind his eyeball is especially loathsome. Slo-mo sequences of blood-drenched artery-sucking are of course de rigueur, along with lurching semi-decomposed representatives of the “undead” and nightmarish shots of a leering skull, with tendons and blood vessels sticking out. Dracula’s gory emergence from the innards of a wolf chalks up another notch for the special effects unit.

Dolly Wells in Dracula, BBC OneBut Bang’s Dracula strolls through all this with a sort of James Bond-like insouciance, delivering facetious throwaway lines in a south London accent (there are a lot of vampire puns along the lines of “I don’t drink… wine”, or “I have a particular gift for eliminating suspects”). His qualifications as a harbinger of eternal horror are not enhanced by a puzzling resemblance to David Walliams, with perhaps just a dash of erstwhile Bond George Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969).

The upshot is that this Dracula feels slow and ponderous and not quite sure why it’s here, perhaps for the simple reason that there’s too much time to fill (it’s as if somebody in Commissioning said “we’ve got an extra hour going spare lads, if you want it?”). Episode two, which is mostly taken up by an expanded account of how Dracula sailed to England on the doomed ship Demeter, virtually grinds to a halt altogether as the Count stands around smirking and gossiping with the crew, before devouring them.

Gatiss and Moffat seem to have been at such pains to move things around and ensure that their Dracula is “different” that sustaining a compelling narrative line has taken a back seat. Professor Van Helsing, for instance, is now Sister Agatha, a nun in Bucharest (played by Dolly Wells, pictured above, with a thick Germanic accent), while making Harker one of the undead is like making Hamlet swap places with the Ghost. Was this journey really necessary?

Dracula’s gory emergence from the innards of a wolf chalks up another notch for the special effects unit


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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‘and he looks like a Chernobyl survivor after a detour through Auschwitz.’? Do you consider this an appropriate comparison in a review about the work of the special effects department, Mr Sweeting? How far we have come from understanding real horror.

Strange you care more about his description than whether or not the series is bad. He's not saying they did a bad job as a department, he's saying it was a poor choice of direction.

I i don't often post comments on TV drama but I just watched BBC 'Dracula' and I am absolutely furious. It claims is is based on Bram Stoker's Dracula- a classic novel which I read that is absolutely enthralling. So I was excited to see a BBC adaptation of it. Instead I was subjected to an hour and a half of absolute bullshit which had nothing to do with the novel apart from the name! It didn't make sense and if ever there was a case a not paying your licence fee for BBC to produce utter crap and destroy good books this was it. It reflects nothing of the horror of the novel and other TV adaptations, of atmosphere of Transylvania of the fascinating build up of Dracula character. To clarify in simple terms Jonathon Harker was not drained of the lifeforce, didnt become a vampire. Dracula left him in the care of his three brides and he eventually escaped, recovered and married Mina. Van Helsing is a man not an atheist nun. Dracula did not go to a nunnery in Hungary to slaughter Nuns (why would he even bother to do so from Romania!). And if the screen writers are going to suggest Dracula would go to a nunnery he be cleverer ways to get in than coming out of a dog naked and trying to scare them in such a stupid way. Did the screen writers even read the Novel. The BBC should be ashamed of themselves for producing such nonsensical rubbish!

Absolutely agree. Bloody (excuse the pun - on a par with the juvenile dialogue) awful script and characters. The 'comedy' was idiotic. I don't mind a little deviation from the original source if it is done well - this most definitely wasn't. I am so disappointed with this confused mess. What really scares me are the mostly glowing reviews calling it "gloriously funny", "best nun ever", "5 star", and the like. Who are these 'critics' trying to convince - us or themselves? If this is what counts (there I go again!) as good writing then I dread to think what is considered bad. I thought the job of a critic was to critique, or is it just to sell bad productions nowadays? The BBC is becoming regularly unwatchable. It too often seems that they are shackling the writers they hire with poorly motivated priorities, and insulting the intelligence of the viewers into the bargain. The future isn't very bright at the BBC unless someone dares to raise the bar.

Stephen, You are so right! The original novel - with its diary entries and letters - completely convinces you - and terrifies you - about the reality of the events. And to have a camp Dracula who says 'I may be Undead but I'm not Unreasonable' - well it's a return to 'Carry On Screaming'.

Stephen...I feel your pain, and agree. But then again, we should not be too surprised what they have done to Stoker's masterpiece. Remember...this is the BBC! In other words...this is the entity that had the audacity to create the 2006 Robin Hood Series; and then...proceeded to "murder" Maid Marian aka Lucy Griffiths...enough said!

I couldn't agree more in regards to this monstrous TV adaptation. Never has such a hatchet job been done on one of the great horror classics. The BBC is becoming renowned for completely ruining original classics. Bram Stoker's name shouldn't be associated with this utter garbage.

Destruction of a literary classic.Abattoir special effects so unnecessary. No hero to support. What was the point of this drivel?

Absolutely spot on. I am gobsmacked at the fawning, sycophantic reviews on other sites. Utter self indulgent tosh. I watched the first episode - 90 minutes of my life I won't get back.

Stephen, I've finished the whole three part. Having seen who the writers were I got what I expected. The sad thing is they think they're cleverer than they actually are. The first time you see a modern take on na Victorian piece you think, quaint, when you get to this point you think move on and try writing something for yourself. This was sub-par. Body horror for the sake of body horror and trying to be more intelligent than it can manage.

Complete rubbish I totally agree with you. I've seen some bad Draculas but I think "Dracula- Dead and Loving It" was truer to the book The whole BBC/Netflix farcical garbage is a complete insult to the book and the vampire genre. Tut Tut Tut. Eddy

I just wrote this on my FB after watching DRACULA then looked to see what reviewers thought. Glad I am not alone! <

Disappointing and thin stuff. The undead harker could have worked but not as a replacement renfield. Female van helsing is inspired particularly if sherlock Holmes got involved. The silly scene with bared stakes just killed the tension and stopped the story. The ridiculous estuary accent for Dracula didn't work. Such a waste of talent all round.

well it may not follow the book at all but i enjoyed it immensely and it even kept my husband awake

I liked the BBC Dracula. What I found interesting was the change from old Victorian times to modern times and the horrifying make up scenes were nightmarish. I also enjoyed the woman as the hero. It did falsely make us think it was like the original book but what they did with it is not so bad

I found this program very enjoyable yes its tongue in cheek but it makes a refreshing change

Sherlock started off brilliantly, with clever visuals and intelligent updates of original plots. Unfortunately, the writers then decided to create the bizzare 'weird sister' backstory, which was absolute rubbish and created a rather Game of Thrones-style daft final series. They seem to be doing the same with weird nun. In the book Dracula is mysterious, sinister and therefore terrifying - this TV Dracula is more like the Hotel Transylvania Dracula but with added gore, However, we see just as much blood and guts on any wildlife documentary, so yukky bits alone are just not scary anymore. TV Drac has zero personality, he would get just as much power and blood if he remained a wolf instead of bothering with all the complicated transformation bit. Nun Agatha is trying far to hard to be quirky and is too clever by half. Harker is trying very hard to be a good guy against pretty impossible odds, and you want to root for him and Mina, but difficult as he is undead already so rather up against it. So far there is no character I give a damn about.

I think those who want the original story in its unaltered form should read (or re-read,) the book. I thought the BBC version was fantastic. It was horror and creepy as hell. I loved it!

Or, maybe Moffat and Gatiss should have written their own story instead of piggybacking on someone else’s work.

I agree with the above criticism. In the book the opening journey to the castle is gripping and the tension never lets up. In the TV version the scene was shortened and tension never established. I'm afraid all the scary bits made me laugh at their absurdity. I'm afraid I had to switch off before the end. Too many liberties with the Stoker original. Unrecognizable.

I had been greatly looking forward to watching this, and usually admire Mark Gatiss's work. What a disappointment - I absolutely hated it. I understand that there have to be changes to bring a novel to the screen, but to have Harker as an undead, and Professor Van Helsing as a nun! And the terrifying, enigmatic Count portrayed as a swaggering, London wide-boy, dispensing silly quips and one- liners! Quite the worst version ever, and only the first part! Just because Gatiss and Moffatt were given carte blanche to disembowel this horror classic does not mean that they should have.

Professor Abraham Van Helsing substituted with "Agatha Van Helsing"? Yet another pitiful example of the BBC's overreaching political correctness. The characters in this adaptation get the familiar BBC treatment by being skewed in conformance with the tired narrative that men (in particular white men) are weak and corruptible. Alas, the idea of the tale's heroic saviour, Van Helsing, being a man is just too unsavoury for the BBC. The negative portrayal of the male sex in this story is so appallingly exaggerated. At the convent, we see a dozen or so nuns steadfastly resisting Dracula's threats and solicitations, yet to no avail, as all are betrayed by one person, who is of course a male, and indeed the only male that's present - Jonathan Harker. Is there anything at all in this adaptation that balances out the anti-male rhetoric? I haven't seen it...

Anti male rhetoric. How ridiculous. Count Dracula is representative of your white male ideal. Hardly "weak and corruptable". Gone are the days of women just being mere eye candy and film props and emotional wrecks at best. It's maybe time for you to move with the times.

Mildly amusing adaptation, which appears to have more in common with Leslie Nielsen's Dracula: Dead and Loving It than with Bram Stoker's original novel! Fun, I'm sure, for the special effects team to play with. Production values are great but I wish they'd been better invested in creating the vivid images from the book. Come back, Lugosi Bela, all is forgiven!

Don't like it. Silly, tasteless, boring in places like the encounter at the convent gate which went on too long and what sort of imagination conjures up the savage killing of nuns? We're not watching episodes 2 and 3.

Haha - confusing Bucharest and Budapest - Romanians will hate you!

I'm enjoying it immensely. Dracula is one of my favourite novels, and this delicious re-visioning does nothing to harm that affection. It looks beautiful too.

Heartily relieved that I’m not alone in thinking this was almost unwatchable twaddle. The whole conception feels unbearably smug. I found Sherlock similarly unwatchable and was always left wondering why the hell everyone thought it so fabulous. In this, I could have dealt with a Dracula who looked like George Lazenby, but having him sound like Dale Winton didn’t strike me as “playful” - just silly. The special effects were overdone to the point of tediousness, and the plot had some of the same labyrinthine twists that made Sherlock such a pain in the arse. I’ve just listened to the luvvies on front row squealing with delight over this re-imagining of the story – what is the matter with these people?

They were obviously enjoying it unlike you, you brain dead gimp. Now climb back into your coffin

I understand that Freddy. I’m puzzled as to why!

Have googled and found 99% of viewers think this mess is well-made and good fun. This is site is the only one that makes sense. This new adaptation is a condescending and obnoxious folly. Let's forget about the accent for now but the problem with the writers is that they are not aware even in a fiction featuring a supernatural, YOU NEED TO HAVE LOGIC AND RULES. If you make anything goes, then the story doesn't go anywhere. You make viewers yawn or laugh for the wrong reason. this is what happens. (I have a degree in Eng. Lit)

But everybody loves it, and the writers have gone way beyond an English lit degree. They know how to write successful tv drama.

If as you state... they know how to write successful drama then it was a shame they failed to do so on this occasion. Personally I think they have been cruising on their earlier success for far too long.

Oh please..'I have a degree in Eng.Lit' Academic snobbery. Listen to all of you on this site. You need to get a life and worry about more important things. It is just an adaptation..So it's not to your taste. So what. Just with any art form..we all interpret it differently. Don't watch it if you don't like it.

A comments section is an invitation to voice an opinion and join the conversation. Why do you want to shut that down? I say “Don’t read them if you don’t like them!”

I don't wish to shut anyone down. I'm just expressing my opinion too. It just surprises me that some people feel so strongly about a television programme (and that's all it is) and feel their opinion is superior to others.

Yeah I agree that claiming superior authority is a dubious move…….

I hope YouTube video essayist Harry Brewis (Hbomberguy) subjects this to the same merciless scrutiny he turned onto 'Sherlock', and Stephen Moffat's previous horrible misfire 'Jekyll' (remember that? Nor does anyone else). Gatiss mistakenly thinks he's the heir to MR James but doesn't have the sense not to write himself in where he promptly sucks all the air out of the scene - hell, Hitchcock stuck to cameos because he didn't delude himself he was a great actor or particularly photogenic. Francis Ford Coppola's movie adaptation may have its faults but I'll take it over Dracula 2019 anyday. It's like watching someone smirking at themselves in a mirror and has all the airless smugness and glib oh-aren't-we-self-aware ironic winkiness that stopped being a workable defence for idiocy when everyone got tired of the New Lad in the early 2000s. I'll be interested to see what US critics make of it, having no emotional investment in Auntie Beeb.

It’s a wonderful adaption. If you want the book....... then read the book. I like it’s pace and blood thirst, I like is it’s diversity of actors and I like the Van Helsing twist, creating a strong female character.

I think it's a fantastic adaptation. Why are people so pedantically opposed to versions of known stories that refresh and reinterpret the story? Viewers who take such outraged issue with a revamped (see what I did there?) story simply don't understand the nature of adaptation or lack imagination. It clearly says at the start of the prog, 'based on' Bram Stoker's book. I assume those who object are the same people who get all upset when the historical details in a pastiche or homage are not 'accurate'. Please, just enjoy a visual feast and brilliantly told story with great characters.

Dracula has been done to death (no pun intended) and this was the final nail. It was unclassy, unsubtle, gross and messed up. They'd tried to steal Dracula's character from 'Lucifer' (badly) and also have missed the point that if you kill off all the good guys, you lose any future interest from your audience. Mark Gatiss is of those breed of BBC favourites who are rather amateurish yet get free rein anyway. Along with the equally horrible version of Scrooge this year, they were both an utter waste of fee-payers' money and are doomed to rest in those 'never to be aired again' vaults the BBC must have. Can I also say that the trend in gratuitous shock tactics made popular in Game of Thrones just renders programmes unwatchable afterwards. Change things by all means, but stop making them yucky, please!

This review is turgid, self-important garbage. Lo and behold it's written by the same insufferable dinosaur who made the Guardian's music pages unbearable and irrelevant for years and years. Talk about people outstaying their welcome. Take a look in the mirror, Sweeting.

It's comments like yours that make this job worthwhile. Happy New Year!

like I wrote, your review is the only one that made sense. It's that 99% of critics really thought this was well crafted good diversion, that made me scared. Were other writers too hung over from hogmaney? even scarier scenario is that critics are under pressure to applaud big budget BBC productions I would remember your name and look out for ur new reviews in future. Good review that tells like it is

Are you sure you have an eng lit degree??

Yes, and probably from better institution than yours, if you have one, and I have a better taste in art than yours. That's why I think this series was forgettable garbage.

What makes Dracula scary is him being an enigma and foreign, it’s the fear of the unknown. If you make Count from Transylvania speak like a smooth talking gourmet bar manager or a boutique hotelier from a sought after London postcode, he wouldn’t be scary, would he? I was no longer watching the second instalment properly, volume minimised and subtitled. When James Bond, I mean, Dracula emerged from the sea (newly introduced rule: he doesn’t need oxygen), the subtitles said “Helicopter noise” and I thought “come on, subtitle company, pay attention, don’t be on autopilot” and lo and behold, there WERE helis and police cars. Did the script writers blow my mind? Did I go “wow, this is far out, man! Can he time travel, too? I can’t wait what happens next!”? No, I couldn’t care less where this bloated drivel was going. I knew it was going nowhere. The viewers are not invited, no more than Dracula was invited to the convent. On the ship, “Hang the nun! She is the vampire!” “Wait, wait, don’t hang me, hang Count! He is the vampire!” Was I watching a Monty Python? Did the script writers get paid for this dialogue? Could a vampire be hung to death? I doubt it, but anyway I thought the new rule said Dracula need not to breathe? This is what I meant in my previous, “even in a fiction featuring a supernatural, there must be logic”.

Watched first episode. Not bad, not good either. Just unhinged. Would be funnier if it was less pedantic. Too drawn out in lots of places. Well enough acted though. I'm not into gore and found some scenes nauseating, had rather seen some good suspense. But suspense depends on pacing and that was off throughout.

Failed to get me interested in any of the characters, included Count D. Too much focus on blood (drawing, spilling, sucking, etc.). Don't really care if he's addicted - what's the point? No attempt to make this relevant to today either so what's the use of making this?

Mr Sweeting's review is spot on. When it comes to feelings of self importance look no further than the scriptwriters themselves. JDR's comments above echo my own.


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