Bram Stoker’s timeless Dracula legend receives some fresh blood in BBC and Netflix’s three episode miniseries centred around the titular character making plans to move from Transylvania to England in 1897.
The three episodes of this miniseries follow the events of Bram Stoker’s classic tale at varying states of faithfulness. The first two stick relatively in line with the novel while the third goes off in a new direction, breathing new life into the Dracula tale. The story of the first two episodes is the main highlight of this series. It’s tense, gripping and lies deep in the horror roots of the story while injecting the occasional hit of humour through the various lead performances. The story takes a number of turns within the 90 minute episodes that keep things constantly moving and keep you always on your toes. They’re well crafted episodes that play out as short films with each one containing a core isolated story that connects to the bigger picture. Within the first two episodes especially, there are a number of iconic scenes executed to utter perfection from technical, story and performance perspectives.
The first two episodes of this mini-series are fantastic. They both feel very isolated, sticking to one or two locations and giving off a very claustrophobic feel that makes them intense from beginning to end. These episodes are very ominous to where even though there’s some humour delivered by this rendition of Count Dracula, the dark tones and occasionally confronting content really effectively nails the horror of this story. The third episode takes the story in a whole new direction that I won’t spoil. Initially, I loved the change and thought things were going to be incredible. There’s even one point early in the episode where it looked like things were heading in an exciting direction. However, within 5 minutes that’s over and the rest of the episode drops the ball completely with a dull story, unlikeable characters and a rather boring conclusion. It’s a shame, since the first two episodes were so gripping, that it ends on such an uninspired, sour note. The very end of the series is fine, it’s just the entire hour preceding it that drags on and on with almost no rewarding story elements.
Despite the story dropping the ball, one aspect of the writing which worked phenomenally well is the dialogue. There are so many lines of dialogue across these three episodes that are just great quotes that either tie to something else in the series or represent certain themes that are quite compelling. It adds a layer of enjoyment when you can hear a line of dialogue and stop to be like, that’s actually really clever.
As far as performances go, Claes Bang is spectacular in this refreshing take on the Dracula character where he has this slight sense of snark and sarcasm about him that radiates through every scene. The fact that he can pull of sarcastic while also coming across as quite menacing is very impressive and he single handedly carries the majority of the series. Although he may be the titular character, I feel like Dolly Wells‘ Sister Agatha is the most important character in this entire miniseries. She’s the contrasting force for Claus’ Dracula and the dynamic they share is crucial to the tone of the series and the development of all major events. She’s the one to root for in contrast to Dracula’s grim intentions and she’s instantly likeable from the moment you meet her. She’s the Batman to Dracula’s Joker, two opposing forces who thrive off the threat they pose to each other. It’s a fantastic dynamic that really elevates the series.
Outside of them two, no other performances really stand out too much, but they’re mostly all decently strong. John Heffernan definitely makes a lasting impact in the opening episode as Jonathan Harker, but he’s the only other one. In the final episode, Lydia West and Matthew Beard really don’t make their already unlikeable characters (Lucy and Jack) any easier to follow. It’s not necessarily their fault but it also felt like they were acting, playing a character as oppose to selling a person.
Another odd aspect I came to like in the end is the cinematography and camera-work. Initially it was very odd with weirdly angled shots and uncomfortable close-ups to the point where it felt like I was watching an experimental student film at times. As the series continued though, I eased into the way it’s shot and I feel like cinematographers Tony Slater Ling and Julian Court found their footing more as well.
In the end, Dracula was a strong miniseries with a massive draw through its first two episodes and the first 10-15 minutes of the third. From there though, it completely drops the ball with a borefest of a final episode that turns the potentially new, fresh and experimental into something more bland, lifeless and uninspiring than I thought we’d get. It’s worth checking out for the claustrophobic horror in the first two episodes and the compelling chemistry between Claes Bang and Dolly Wells, who together carry the entire miniseries.