Show review, episode 1 – “The Rules of the Beast”
Dracula, the latest BBC vehicle, premiered on Netflix last month. While their marketing has gone viral for being innovative, their approach to perhaps the most beloved and iconic villain is not. I’m a vampire stan and have frequently featured them in my writing. I watched the first episode of the show and came away with mixed feelings. There are things I liked about the show and things I didn’t — I loved the characterization of Van Helsing, but I hated the way they turned Dracula into a sexless, charmless vampire whose accent changed for no discernible reason. So here’s my review of the first episode and just know there will be spoilers ahead.
The interrogation scenes shined
The show starts with Jonathan Harker, played by John Heffernan, waking up in a monastery. He is ghastly, looking a bit like nosferatu without the fangs, long nails, or malevolence (yet). We meet two nuns, one of whom doesn’t speak, and another who immediately takes the lead asking Harker about his time with Count Dracula, played by Danish actor Claes Bang. We see Jonathan’s journey, where he looks like a sprightly middle-aged man traveling along a snowy woodland trail in the back of a carriage. He arrives at Dracula’s house and very quickly we meet the lady killer himself – only his entrance is clunky and has all the grace of a drunken pirate. Part of Dracula’s appeal is that there’s an air of mystery and sensuality about him and this actor, in my opinion, does not execute that very well. His voice is cloying and it is unclear where his version of Dracula comes from.
Dracula’s characterization was definitely a choice
Like the standard telling of Dracula’s tale, he starts old and as he drains people he becomes younger. In this case, the second Dracula became young, he lost his accent and became Brittish. It seems the showrunners tried to get around this by having Dracula say “you are what you eat” and allude to the fact that when he drinks blood he takes in more than just the person’s blood, but he takes in some of who they are — when he drinks the nun’s blood, he is able to discern that she is Agatha Van Helsing from Holland and that she is fascinated by him.
A woman stole the show
Played by Dolly Wells, the new characterization of the vampire hunter in Stoker’s book gives the story a fresh feel. Instead of Abraham Van Helsing – the stalwart Dutchman and Dracula’s nemesis, it is Agatha who battles the Count. In this series, the vampire hunter is a nun in a remote mountain convent. She is unhappy as a nun, a fact that she’s vocal about – just as she is about her inability to find God. She is smart, risky, and determined to understand the reasoning behind those classic phobias Dracula has. Agatha is the smartest woman in the room at all times, and it’s lit to see a lead female character that hasn’t been created for the male gaze.
The scares were due to special effects
Despite the rash of sexy vampire novels and books out there, the original iteration of Dracula was horror and sex wrapped into one. But this characterization of Dracula is less the type that makes you want to get bitten because it’ll hurt so good, and more like the villain that spews witticisms as he pontificates on why he was going to kill you dead. There are some genuinely scary parts in this show – the dead baby and reverse werewolf transformation scenes come to mind – rely heavily on special effects. I found myself wondering where’s the atmosphere? Where is the creepy music? Where are the lines that send a shiver down my back? As a writer, I know that bad writing can make or break a piece. And I am not saying the writing is bad… maybe just a splash of corny mixed with a dose of a failed attempt at gravitas.
Overall, it was a show that I wouldn’t not watch again. I still plan to watch the next two episodes, if only to scrutinize it for this blog.
Have you seen Dracula? What did you think? Leave a comment below.