Thursday, March 15, 2007

Review: Dracula on Masterpiece Theater

About a month ago I TiVoed the Masterpiece Theater version of Dracula and just got around to watching it.

It's not at all a straightforward adaptation. The major difference is that Lord Holmwood has inherited syphilis from his parents and is desperate to cure it before he consummates his marriage with Lucy. To do that, he strikes a deal with a secret, occult society who promise to bring to England the one man who can cleanse Holmwood's diseased blood. So, it's this secret society who arranges for Dracula to come over from Transylvania and hires poor Jonathan Harker to arrange the deal.

Other changes include Van Helsing's being held prisoner by the society until he's rescued by Dr. Seward, who's investigating Lucy's death. Van Helsing was hired by the society to research ancient folk legends, but now he knows too much and has to be kept locked away.

Even though it plays loose with the source material though, it's no worse in that regard than any other adaptation of it. Maybe it's just that I like secret societies, but I thought that bit added a nice element to the story that explained some motivations and tied everything together instead of leaving a bunch of coincidences.

I even liked the changes in characters. Van Helsing is a frightened old man in this version, but he's far more interesting that way than the know-it-all monster-hunter in most versions. Dr. Seward is also given a lot more to do than usual and for all practical purposes becomes the hero of the story. He's a handsome fellow, but Holmwood is prettier (and richer) and we can easily buy that Lucy likes them both, but chooses Holmwood. Lucy, for her part, is heart-breakingly gorgeous and -- unlike in the Coppola version -- it's totally believable that she's the object of so many men's affections.

The only disappointment was that Seward's becoming the hero takes that role away from Mina. In the novel, she's the only one who figures out what's going on and all the guys are like, "Poor Mina. She's only a girl. We'll handle this." Meanwhile, Dracula gathers more and more power because no one's listening to Mina. I love Mina in the book. I don't hate Mina in this version -- she's a nice girl who's having a hard time dealing with Harker's disappearance and Lucy's death -- but she's not Mina in the book.

Marc Warren does an excellent job as Dracula. He's the perfect balance between seductive and scary-as-hell. Totally unrecognizable from when he guest-starred on Doctor Who.

The story in this version wraps up a lot quicker than in the novel, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. It's not rushed within its own context, it's just not the book. And its not being the book is really the only criticism that can be levelled against it. On its own, it's a perfectly valid adaptation and I'd stick it up against any of the others. It's not Bram Stoker's story, but then, it's not supposed to be.


JoeKinski said...

We caught it when it showed. I thought it was OK when we watched it ... I really liked the way it looked ... but Chris really disliked the ending, after she'd liked it up to that point. She really hates the ol' Carrie ending type stuff. If you haven't seen it, check out Guy Maddin's film based on the Dracula ballet. I loves it ... but Chris won't even watch 2 minutes of it... done as a silent film with title cards and some really wild use of color...

Anonymous said...

I didn't even know about this. Damn. Wish I would've.

JoeKinski said...

I don't think PBS did a very good job of publicizing this. We ran into it strictly by accident that night it was on. Come to think of it, at least here in CA, PBS has been lost even more than the networks in the storm of cable stations...

Michael May said...

I only found it because I've got "Dracula" set up as one of my TiVo Wish Lists.


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