What better way to start the new year than by watching the darkly brilliant Dracula on BBC One. Where Bram Stokers classic novel has found a new voice in the hands of both Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (Sherlock). The writing duos love for the original text shining through, while in turn embracing a modern take on Stoker’s famous character. Moffat’s ingenuity combining with Gatiss’ love of horror. In creating a TV series that echoes the visual style of Hammer horror. While also embracing the dynamic and sharp storytelling of duos previous work on both Doctor Who and Sherlock.
Moffat and Gatiss take no time in grabbing the audience by their throats. Launching into a screenplay that plays to the sexuality, mythology and gothic horror of the novel. While providing a truly stunning and fascinating modern journey into Stoker’s character. Consequently redefining gothic and Victorian horror on TV, through an innovative screenplay and visual style.
The character of Dracula has often found itself underserved in TV history. With some adaptations aimed at love, humour and watered down horror. While others have struggled to reinterpret Bram Stoker’s novel for a modern TV audience. Consequently the subtext and themes of sexuality inherent in Stoker’s novel have often been sidelined in TV. In part due to a fear of portraying Dracula as queer or sexually ambiguous. In a world where many have felt more comfortable with heterosexual vampires who only feed on women. A slightly strange notion given the novel’s clear yet equally delicate conversation on sexuality.
However, while TV has previously struggled with Dracula’s non conforming sexuality and identity. It would be true to say that the mythology of the vampire has remained a staple of TV drama and creativity. From the superb Being Human to True Blood and Penny Dreadful. All providing us with devilishly brilliant interpretations of vampire mythology, where the sexuality of the vampire has often been celebrated. Therefore to see Dracula finally receive the same modern treatment is not only a joy for horror fans. But also a leap forward in identifying the sexual themes present in Bram Stoker’s novel. Allowing TV to finally surpass film in ensuring the character who gave birth to the vampire finds a new audience. While equally drawing that new audience back to the original source material.
Just as Gatiss and Moffat reinvented Sherlock Holmes for a modern generation. Dracula takes the core themes of Stoker’s novel while also layering them with a fresh and dynamic interpretation. Not only allowing for trademark blood soaked gothic horror. But also embracing wit, humour and charm with a screenplay that frees the character from his literary shackles. In many ways achieving a reinvention of Dracula equal to that of the 1958 Hammer Horror outing. With a TV series that sweeps the audience away into a world of both gothic and modern horror. As we are taken from the castles of Romania to an Agatha Christie style voyage across the ocean. Before finally finding our feet back on modern ground. Each feature length episode dovetailing sublimely with the next. While bathing the audience in stunning cinematography, art design and sound.
However, it is within the central performances of its cast, that the visual delight and sublime screenplay of Dracula really take flight. With a cast who gobble up the words of Gatiss and Moffat with sheer delight, while equally reinventing their literary characters with glee. And central to this, is the theatrical and darkly delicious performance of Claes Bang as the Count. Providing us with a Dracula who combines the fear of Christopher Lee with the charm of Bela Lugosi. While being equally matched by the intelligence and wit of Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells). Both lead actors shining on screen as they bounce off of one another with dialogue that embraces both light and dark in equal measure.
While in turn the characters circling around Sister Agatha and Count Dracula provide far more than just a meal for the Count. With each character receiving their own unique story arc in the blood soaked horror that ensues.
Dracula is not only a love letter to gothic horror, but also a rebirth of Stoker’s character. While equally highlighting the power of TV to transport viewers to new realms. And adapt and build on Victorian horror for the modern age. Its gore and charm wrapped in the writing genius of two of TV’s most eloquent and visionary talents. Who demonstrate an understanding of the power of TV to challenge, engage and create new worlds. While ultimately providing us with something old, something new and something deliciously decadent.