Sunday 22 March 2020

Dracula by Gatiss, Moffat and Stoker

Like The Invisible Man, Dracula is a radical reinterpretation of a spooky classic of Victorian literature for our 21st century screens

Unlike The Invisible Man, though, this BBC-Netflix production gives full credit to its creator.

Bram Stoker is prominently named in the show's opening title sequence, right up there with writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat.

Gatiss and Moffat are, of course, responsible for Sherlock — a clever, highly successful and entertaining reworking of Conan Doyle's detective.

And they have both had a considerable impact as writers on Doctor Who, with Moffat going on to become the producer of that great science fiction warhorse. 

So there was every reason to hope for a similar high profile success with Dracula. But the three part mini-series — which is wildly loved by some enthusiasts — wasn't a hit.

And I think there's a basic and simple explanation for that. Because, although it sounds odd to say it, Count Dracula is a very boring character...
Of course, he can be a very scary bad guy — providing he only appears sparingly in the story. But if your plot requires seeing a lot of him, then he rapidly becomes wearisome. 

Because what does he do? He bites people. And that's about it. That's his schtick.

Yes, he's a charismatic Byronic seducer who exerts a powerful, eerie attraction etc. etc.

But again this is only effective if  he is rarely on the screen. 

Dracula needs to remain mysterious and remote. If you see a lot of him, he gets a lot less scary and his Byronic charisma gets tiresome.

And he just bites people.

If you do want to see a lot of Count Dracula, if you want him at the centre of your story, as Gatiss and Moffat clearly do, you need to give him more substance, more motivation... 

And more of a character arc than merely seducing and drinking blood.

This was done with great success in the 1992 movie called Bram Stoker's Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola Dracula and written by James V. Hart.

That movie presented Dracula as a tragic romantic hero with a doomed love affair that echoed down the centuries — and drove the plot and characterisation in that movie. 

A great idea, but as I've discussed elsewhere, it didn't originate with Hart and Coppola, but rather with writer Richard Matheson and director Dan Curtis in a 1973 TV movie, also called Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Unfortunately, Gatiss and Moffat haven't done anything comparable to this in their take on the Dracula legend. 

Of course, it's commendable that they didn't rip off the Hart/Coppola movie, which was itself a rip off of the Matheson/Curtis one...

But they also failed to come up with a viable alternative. And they badly needed to... Without something of this nature, the Gatiss/Moffat Dracula was a car without an engine...

It still has many cool things going for it, though. And it's well worth discussing. So much so that I plan to look at each episode separately, starting next week. Then I might also take an in-depth look at the Hart/Coppola movie... Keep your crucifixes and garlic ready.

(Image credits: The official poster is from Imp Awards. The highly imaginative Dracula billboard is a screenshot from this great time lapse photography clip at the BBC. Dracula in the red cloud is from the Radio Times; blood spattered Dracula is also from the Radio Times. The smiling and fanged pic is from Chronicle Live. The poster for the Matheson/Curtis Dracula starring Jack Palance is from Kult Guy's Keep. The Coppola Dracula poster is from Imp Awards.)

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