Dracula – BBC Netflix mini series, UK, 2020 – more reviews and Blu-ray, DVD news

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‘The legend gets some fresh blood’

Dracula is a 2020 British three-part television mini-series co-written by Mark Gatiss (Jekyll series, 2007) and Stephen Moffat (Doctor Who). The BBC One project is a co-production with Netflix, who will stream it outside the UK.

Danish actor Claes Bang (The Girl In The Spider’s Web) plays Count Dracula. Bang previously said: “I am thrilled to be taking on the role of Dracula, especially when the script is in the hands of the incredible talents of Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and the team responsible for Sherlock. I’m so excited that I get to dig into this iconic and super-interesting character. Yes, he’s evil, but there’s also so much more to him, he’s charismatic, intelligent, witty and sexy. I realise that there’s a lot to live up to with all the amazing people that have played him over the years, but I feel so privileged, to be taking on this incredible character.”

Alongside Claes Bang, Dracula stars Dolly Wells, John Heffernan, Joanna Scanlan and Morfydd Clark.

Filming on the new Dracula adaptation began at Orava Castle in Slovakia (where Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror was filmed in 1921), before relocating to Bray Studios in Berkshire, England. The latter reopened as a filming facility in May 2018 when the slump in the property market due to the ongoing Brexit fiasco meant that plans to develop it into flats had to be put on hold. Gatiss commented: “It’s seriously delightful that our new Dracula is being shot at Bray Studios – the former home of Hammer Films!”

Reviews [may contain spoilers]:

“The Dark Compass ends undone by its unwillingness to pick which one thing it wants to be: an exploration of Dracula in 2020, a faithful if temporally translated adaptation of the novel, or a look at the relationship between the vampire and his hunter. But there’s enough fascinating weirdness in all three strands to at least make it feel worth its failures.” AV Club

” …once the final act arrives, the lights keeping you safe suddenly explode into a gloriously shocking horror-show. Bang sinks his teeth into the role: injecting a seething, amusing malevolence into the character in one of the most theatrical depictions yet. The BBC makes the 123-year-old tale scary again…” Culture Whisper

” …from about the time jump onwards this really lost it for me. I do think that they could have kept it in the past and retained all of the plot elements that were in place in this finale and the time jump just feels a bit cheap looking back. As a whole, though I did enjoy the show…” Deffinition

” …full of weird imagery and unsettling detail from director Jonny Campbell, supported by an impressive Gothic setting and atmospheric score […] Scary, funny, unusual, simultaneously a tribute to classic movie horror and a pastiche of the same, it careens between broad laughs and disquieting images.” Den of Geek!

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” …Mark Gatiss rightly pointed out recently, “horror should be transgressive,” and Dracula holds this mantra close to its chest in all of its blood-soaked glory. Sure, there’s still scope for the show to be even more transgressive in later episodes – particularly in its treatment of the book’s gay subtext – but for the BBC, this is still remarkably mature and progressive programming.” Digital Spy

“I quite like Claes Bang in the lead role, talking in a general matter-of-fact way about what he gets up to – including his line, “I’m undead, I’m not unreasonable”, instead of putting on a dodgy Transylvanian accent. However, it is largely a very dull story being told and took forever to get anywhere.” DVD Fever

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“It’s a bloodstained love letter to a classic, beautifully and delicately scented with just the faintest hint of ham gothic yarns need; a homage to all the great Counts who have gone before, but still entirely its own thing. And again, like the best of Gatiss and Moffat’s Sherlocks, with the searching intelligence that promises to flesh out the foundational story.” The Guardian

“Dracula may take a bit of getting used to, tonally, but once the Count starts to war with the equally plucky and persistent Van Helsing, the show finds itself – along with its ability, and excuse, to indulge in ferocious foolishness.” IGN

“It feels like a passion project for the creators, especially Gatiss, who has a well-documented love of horror. This rollicking enthusiasm carries Dracula along, and we ignore the odd dodgy special effect that makes it feel like a gothic Doctor Who. None of it makes sense, but there’s a reason these vampires live for such a long time.” Independent

“ …has charm and sarcasm to die for but ultimately lacks any heft or bite … This Dracula has a fair amount in common with Sherlock, the titular neck-chomper oozing charm and spitting out sarcastic lines with an inbuilt menace […] Enjoyable up to a point but threatening to become a little ponderous in its telling, there is very little tension afoot.” The List

[Episode One]: “ …a brilliantly campy, scary and stylish (if a little bloated) take on Bram Stoker’s bloodsucker … Dracula is sharp, visually arresting, genuinely scary and sometimes funny, and it’s got some great Easter Eggs for horror aficionados … a fun, slick and entertaining Dracula story…” Radio Times

{Episode Two]: ” …it felt like the large and interesting cast of passengers and crew were slightly sidelined and underused, while the powerful horror elements of Stoker’s original text are slightly watered down by the choice to make Dracula the lead character of this episode (notably, it’s less frightening than the first episode).” Radio Times

[Episode Two]: “Things are tied nicely into the first episode too and although it’s not a wholly faithful adaptation of the book, it’s good enough to make for a unique and original tale nonetheless. Sister Agatha is a decent character and easy to get behind, surprisingly full of some of the more witty lines in the season.” The Review Geek

[Episode One]: In the novel, Harker visits Dracula only to discover that he is not a guest but a captive slowly being bled dry by a host turned deadly parasite. For whatever reason, Moffat and Gatiss (perhaps unintentionally) translate this feeling of weakness and sluggishness into a vicarious experience by conveying boredom that comes with imprisonment.” Salon

Dracula was at its best as a period piece, allowing Moffat and Gatiss to languish in the gorgeous gothic settings and Hammer Horror inspired mood. They couldn’t replicate that tone with the modern setting and they also didn’t seem to have a reason to do so beyond the gimmick. The twist didn’t add anything new or unique to its narrative, which was already seriously lacking in ideas.” Screen Rant

“Though Bang brings a lot of “this Dracula f*cks” energy to his performance, it’s surprisingly restrained in that regard […] Dracula is a four and a half hour long bait and switch, in which we were promised a devilishly seductive unholy creature wreaking havoc on unwitting mortals, and ended up with a dull, disappointing slog.” The Spool

“When it comes to gore the show doesn’t disappoint, with grisly beheadings, terrifying reanimated corpses and wolves tearing nuns apart all ensuring plenty of bloodshed. These moments never feel gratuitous and shackle the action to a real sense of peril, while also giving gravity to Dracula’s deadly power.” The Sun

“The makers of Sherlock have now turned to another classic character in Dracula and their giddily entertaining take on Bram Stoker’s blood-sucking Count provides plenty to sink your teeth into this New Year … This retelling pulls off the tricky balancing act of being both frightening and funny, spine-chilling and sexy – not to mention ever so slightly camp.” The Telegraph

“Dracula is overwhelmingly built around the thrill of watching The Smartest Man In The Room. Once you notice this running thread in Moffat’s work, it becomes incredibly distracting. Stories are less about character growth than they are about the protagonist (Dracula, in this case) smugly one-upping everyone around them.” The Verge

Background:

Inspired by Bram Stoker‘s novel, the mini-series promised to “re-introduce the world to Dracula, the vampire who made evil sexy” said a BBC press release. “In Transylvania in 1897, the blood-drinking Count is drawing his plans against Victorian London. And be warned: the dead travel fast.”

“There have always been stories about great evil,” Sherlock creator Moffat and Gatiss said in the original announcement. “What’s special about Dracula, is that Bram Stoker gave evil its own hero.”

Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama added, “Steven and Mark’s ingenious vision for Dracula is as clever as it is chilling. In their talented hands, the fans will experience the power of Bram Stoker’s creation as if completely anew. We are thrilled to be collaborating with them and the brilliant team at Hartswood on yet another iconic British series.”

Speaking at the Radio Times Covers Party, co-writers of the new Dracula TV adaptation, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat, revealed that their big pitch to the BBC and Netflix was to finally make Dracula “the hero of his own story” – the central focus of the narrative rather than a shadowy villain for more traditional heroes to overcome.

Moffat said: “There’s lots of things that are challenging about Dracula. Having an evil lead character is actually really difficult. That’s been the main challenge I think. But how we’ve handled, that you’ll have to wait and see.”

Gattis added: “It’s been very exciting though because we sort of made a promise to ourselves and the people who are making it, paying for it, that we’d make Dracula the hero of his own story, and less of a shadowy presence. And that’s a really clever idea, but we had to make good on it!”

In a December 2019 interview in the British newspaper the Independent, Stephen Moffat discussed staying true to the original spirit of what Bram Stoker wrote, being influenced by the 1977 BBC version of Dracula with Louis Jordan as the Count and how to present vampires “in a post-#MeToo era”, without resorting to sexploitation, saying:

” …every young man in those Hammer movies takes his top off,” adding “The Hammer movies wanted to get everyone into the cinema so, yes, the girls would be in a low-cut dress or taking their top off, but the blokes would be too. And if you look at the first Hammer one, the person Dracula looks most turned on by biting was Peter Cushing. There’s a whole homoerotic moment. But he’s eating them, not dating them. Dracula is not so much bisexual as bi-homicidal.” Read the full piece here

Previously, the BBC and Netflix posted the first trailer (below) for their new adaptation of Dracula which features a curious cover of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ rock anthem.

The mini-series premiered on BBC One on New Year’s Day, January 1st, 2020. It will debut on Netflix on January 4th, 2020 and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 3rd 2020.

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Special features:

  • Who is Dracula?
  • Styling Dracula
  • The Score
  • Building Castle Dracula
  • The Beast Within
  • Arwel’s Set Tour
  • Audio commentary with Mark Gatiss, Stephen Moffat, Sue Vertue and Arwel Wyn Jones

Dracula has been adapted by the BBC before, most notably in 2006 with Marc Warren in the title role and in 1977 with Louis Jourdan as The Count.

Co-writer Mark Gatiss has played Count Dracula himself in a 2016 Big Finish audiobook adaptation.

More Dracula

Cast and characters:

  • Claes Bang … Dracula
  • Dolly Wells … Sister Agatha
  • John Heffernan … Jonathan Harker
  • Joanna Scanlan … Mother Superior
  • Morfydd Clark … Mina
  • Lujza Richter … Elena
  • Lyndsey Marshal … Bloxham
  • Corrina Wilson … Amanda
  • Mark Gatiss … Frank
  • Matthew Beard … Jack
  • Tim Ingall … Krasnaya Rubashka
  • Jonathan Aris … Captain Sokolov
  • Chanel Cresswell … Katherine
  • Sacha Dhawan … Doctor Sharma
  • Youssef Kerkour … Olgaren
  • Phil Dunster … Quincey
  • Nathan Stewart-Jarrett … Adisa
  • Patrick Walshe McBride … Lord Ruthven
  • Lydia West … Bloofer Lady
  • Clive Russell … Valentin
  • Catherine Schell … Grand Duchess Valeria
  • Samuel Blenkin … Piotr
  • Anthony Flanagan … Portmann
  • Alec Utgoff Alec Utgoff … Abramoff
  • Dilyana Bouklieva … Nun
  • Andrew Byron … Father Stepashin
  • Lily Dodsworth-Evans … Lady Dorabella Ruthven
  • Ria Fend … Clubber
  • Rob Horrocks … Harker Staff
  • Katherine Jakeways … Lorraine
  • Lily Kakkar … Yamini
  • Scott Karim … Gupta
  • Anthony Kaye … Andy
  • Olivia Klein … Emily
  • Abdulla Majid … Khan
  • John McCrea … Zev
  • Sarah Niles … Meg
  • Sofia Oxenham … Sam
  • Natasha Radski … Mother
  • Joakim Skarli … Dancer
  • Veronica Stanwell … The Young Duchess
  • Cat White … Beth
  • Millicent Wong … Alice

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