Is there a single name that is more recognizable in pop-culture?
We all know the story of Dracula. The vampire warlord who has roamed the earth for hundreds of years.
The love story…
Okay for everyone who has read the book, we know that isn’t the case. But that is the popular view and it is something that most iterations have gone with.
Earlier this year a true gem dropped on Netflix.
A three-part mini series produced by the BBC and I have to say, even though I found the third part to be the weakest- this is vampire TV you should not deprive yourself of.
We start by meeting a damaged, twisted version of Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan).
We meet him after he has escaped Castle Dracula, in a convent with Sister Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) - yes they played the gender swap card, and honestly they did it in a fantastic way.
With her is an unnamed sister- I won’t name to avoid spoilers.
As the book is told through the journals of the characters, the first part is mostly told through the memory of Jonathan Harker.
It follows very closely to the books in terms of tones and events.
This Dracula is not the tragic character looking for love. This Dracula is terrifying.
In the beginning he is an aged and twisted man. Not much of a threat but there is certainly something very off about him.
As the story unfolds we see Dracula (magnificently portrayed by Claes Bang) becoming a younger version of himself. Not only do we see is youth return, his English proficiency and accent become like a native, but Bang brings out this cold evil in the character that I have not seen on the screen.
This Dracula is scary, this Dracula is a reason to be terrified at night. He is an immortal war lord and we are nothing but food- and this is exactly how Claes Bang plays the role. Dracula toys with his food.
In the book there is a truly wonderful scene where Mr. Harker is insisting on leaving the castle.
In this moment Dracula grabs him and takes him to the doors - while using his dark abilities to call on the wolves to come.
This is a very clear message to Harker, ‘you can be my play thing, or you can die.’
This is something that is portrayed so perfectly on screen. Dracula cold and cruel demeanor shines through more and more as Harker grows ever more withered.
The horror in this first part is slowly built with the tension and we as the audiences are wondering ‘How? How did Jonathan get away from this monster?’
As this plays out we keep getting breaks and brought to the present as there are parts of the story that, sister Agatha needs more information on.
To me, this snap between the two time periods shows just how much Harker had surfed as we keep seeing the end result of him. This broken man who escaped a monster… but did he?
In the book Jonathan does indeed make it away from Dracula, though the details of how aren’t really known.
We do see how this happens in this series and the haunting part for me, is when Dracula follows Harker.
Yes, Dracula comes to the convent.
I am trying to avoid spoilers so I will simply say this; oh damn! And Agatha is a badass.
The second part is where we divert from the book.
It picks up on the boat to England.
This turns from a thrilling horror to a thrilling horror with a wonderful mystery element.
Again, I can not praise Claes Bang enough and yes, he is absolutely my favorite Dracula now.
During this episode we see that Dracula is selective about who he feeds on. He has hand picked those who are on the boat with him. Picking high class and interesting people to feed on- though he doesn’t seem concerned with rationing.
He sees little to no reason to lie about what he is and will happily announce that he is a vampire.
The second half of this part exposes what exactly has happened to sister Agatha Van Helsing and the hunt for Dracula on a small boat.
It is a great show of Cat and Mouse where the role of Cat is changed a couple of times.
It’s broken up with cut aways in which we see Agatha and Dracula discussing what is happening on the ship and they play chess.
Much like with Harker, Agatha is visibly worn as the episode goes on.
As a side note, this is how you write a strong female character. She is not the best at everything because reasons, but she is a strong woman and while she may be afraid, it’s her conviction and strength to keep going past her fears in the face of this horror that makes her a strong character and a fantastic character to see on screen.
This episode ends in a truly magnificent way and I can see myself watching the first two parts again as soon as I have finished writing.
The third part…
Set in modern day Britain, the third part has some quite frankly stupid parts too it.
Again I love the performance by Bang. And seeing his reaction in the first moments of the episode seeing how times have changed is something special.
He appears out of his depths for about five seconds. He is met by something close to a private group with the intention of taking him in- there is not even a hint of fear about the man and this goes to show the real danger that Dracula presents. Even with guns, cameras and surrounds by people very willing to shoot him, he is constantly in the mindset of, ‘I am the reason you don’t sleep at night.’
It’s in this part we see that Dracula learns everything he knows from drinking blood.
Feeding on one modern day Brit and he knows everything that person knows and everything about them.
Because of this he is able to adjust and thrive in less than a day.
He is captured - of course and this is where the truly stupid part of the story comes in to play.
While in captivity… Dracula gets a tablet and contacts is solicitor…
Okay so, Jonathan Harker works with a solicitors’ firm, they were handling Dracula’s move just like in the books. That was the start of everything. But due to this, the vampire had a solicitor… and the solicitor said he had to be released.
Yeah I know.
Anyway, the organization that captured Dracula is run by a descendant of Sister Agatha and played by the same actress- wonderful so too I might add. After the Count is released it appears that she steps down (she has cancer and isn’t far from the end) and seems to simply give up for a time.
We follow a younger man who seems to be infatuated by, Lucy Westenra (Lydia West). While Lucy in the books seems like someone who would happily be a polygamist if sociality allowed her to be, this version of Lucy seems apathetic to everything- including her own life.
A drug taking, alcohol abusing young woman trying to feel something that is aware that she gets attention for no other reason that she is beautiful and knows that most people never see past this.
This Lucy meets the vampire and Dracula becomes somewhat enchanted with her attitude.
This drives the story on and reunited the Van Helsing descendant and Dracula.
In the final scene those old clichés of the cross and sun light at exposed and somewhat to a satisfactory level.
The end is just that. It’s the end.
The third part is not my favorite and to be honest it is a little disappointing. It seems like the ending comes out of no where as there is nothing that shows it would end in such a way.
I couldn’t tell you how I would re-write it without spoiling it for you but I personally think they could have closed this book with a bang instead of a thud.
So with all all of this, is it worth watching?
I’ve done my best to review this without giving away spoilers for a very simple reason, this is hands down the best version of Dracula we have seen on screen - big or small.
This is not a love story, this is a horror tail with a real monster. A real monster who could at any second killed everyone on screen. At all times Dracula is the most dangerous character on screen and Claes Bang plays this villain in a truly terrifying way.
There is no weak link when it comes to the cast and aside from 1 or 2 parts - the writing is pretty solid. Certainly part 1 & 2 are solid.
This is something you should absolutely watch- though be warned, like me you may find yourself watching all three parts in one sitting.