Dracula review: Sherlock writers reinvigorate another literary icon in Netflix’s bloody good show
Cast - Claes Bang, Dolly Wells, John Hefferman, Morfydd Clark
Bitingly funny and utterly charming, Netflix and the BBC’s three-part Dracula series revitalises a literary icon who has had a foot inside the grave for years.
That was to be expected, though, considering that the show has been co-created and written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the duo behind the globally successful Sherlock revival that turned Benedict Cumberbatch into a star and Martin Freeman into a Hobbit.
Watch the Dracula trailer here
Gatiss and Moffat sneak in a reference to Sherlock — or at least, ‘a detective in London’ — in the second episode of Dracula, briefly hinting at a crossover that might be too tantalising for its own good. Throwaway references aside, there are obvious parallels to be drawn between the two shows, especially with regards to the defiantly modern spirit that they share.
Several memorable lines, mostly from the classic 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, make a much-anticipated return. After welcoming the harried Jonathan Harker to his sprawling castle in Transylvania, Count Dracula turns down Harker’s offer to join him for a post-dinner chat. “I never drink…” he says, and after a perfectly timed pause continues, “…wine.”
Danish actor Claes Bang not only looks an awful lot like Lugosi, but he also makes the wise choice to play the character with a twinkle in his eye. You can sense his glee when he’s when he’s allowed to sink his teeth into some of Lugosi’s most famous lines as Dracula. “Listen to them,” he says wistfully, “children of the night, what music they make.”
The context in which these words are uttered, however, couldn’t be more different. You must beware of spoilers, because there’s a lot that the trailers have skilfully avoided revealing. The identity of a couple of nuns questioning Harker in episode one is exposed with quite the flourish, but nothing surprised me more than the twist at the end of episode two. We can discuss neither here.
Like Sherlock, the three episodes run close to 90 minutes long, allowing Gatiss, Moffatt, and the three directors who’ve been tasked with helming them the time to allow the story to unfold. And it can often get a bit glacial.
It takes a while for the time-jumping structure of episode one to fully justify itself, while the Agatha Christie-esque episode two, which unfolds almost like a claustrophobic murder mystery aboard the ship Demeter, feels too isolated from the rest of the plot. There is little I can reveal about the third episode without ruining some of the surprises. But visually, its by far the most imaginative of the lot, with director Paul McGuigan harkening back to old-Hollywood with some of his lighting choices, and the use of matte paintings as backgrounds.
But it is the humour that sets Gatiss and Moffat’s Dracula apart from the dozens of older adaptations, including director Francis Ford Coppola’s hilariously over-the-top 1992 film. It isn’t particularly scary, but the show is aware of some of the ridiculousness of previous adaptations, without ever being ridiculous itself.