BBC’s Dracula, created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss of Dr. Who and Sherlock fame, is exactly the television show the prior half of this sentence suggests. Equal parts toffee-nosed primness and schoolboy irreverence, it approaches Bram Stoker’s seminal novel with a confidence unsupported by any facet of the series. From the bizarre casting of generic Danish hunk Claes Bang in the title role to the cheap, stuffy sets, indifferent pacing, and shoddy costuming, the entire thing feels like it came together in the space of a week. Its departures from the text are particularly broad, combining uninspired execution with sloppy plotting and an overabundance of affection for meaningless twists and reversals.
More than any of this, though, the show’s real problem is Dracula himself. Bang is leaden in a role which demands charisma, his face immobile, his Transylvanian accent so bad I assumed it was a joke and he’d cough to clear his throat before continuing in a normal voice. With a wardrobe that looks like something straight out of a seasonal Halloween outlet and a close, overlit style of shooting which makes everything look colorless and vaguely anemic there’s nothing for him to fall back on, no style to mask his shortcomings as an actor. Trying to hang the whole show on him is a recipe for disaster, and although there’s nothing stellar on offer here, acting-wise he remains the miniseries’ weak link right up until the end.
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Do I Make You Horny, Baby?
Dracula is a sex symbol. It’s been inextricable from the story, and from the vampire myths on which it’s built, from the start. On this front, Netflix’s adaptation has a problem. To say that Moffat and Gatiss have an aversion to sex and sexuality would be putting it mildly. The series is positively antiseptic, its brushes with the idea of sex leavened with a kind of archly nervous adolescent giggling, as when Sister van Helsing asks Jonathan Harker if he had sexual intercourse with Dracula. It’s not meant as some expansion of the story’s scope to include explicit discussions of homosexuality, but as something shocking in its own right and with precious little behind it otherwise. This ambivalence toward sex robs even the series’ most overtly sensual imagery of its power, the show unable to generate the strong and unironic emotions necessary to create a sexualized atmosphere.
Past the weak quips, the sexless violence, and the abysmal makeup and CGI, the show has very little to say. Its central thesis about living with the fear of mortality is underexplored, its final chapter like something out of a piece of unimaginative Modern AU fan fiction. Simply put, there’s nothing to recommend this latest interpretation of Stoker’s novel over any other staged or filmed version, or the book itself for that matter, which remains gripping and readable a hundred and twenty-odd years after its initial publication. Moffat and Gatiss’s riff on Dracula is ten pounds of shit in a five-pound coffin.