Dracula bites in
Dracula has been adapted for the screen and the stage innumerable times since the Irish author Bram Stoker published his novel in 1897, the latest being a three-part drama on BBC TV. This has been well received by critics and the audience alike. Some viewers have reported getting nightmares.
The new drama is a co-production with Netflix so it will be seen around the world. It has been written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the innovative duo behind the modern version of Sherlock.
Dracula, played by the Danish actor Claes Bang, has been given some amusing one liners.
“You look rather drained,” the vampire tells the young lawyer Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan), who has come out to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania to settle paperwork on a property that the Prince of Darkness is buying in England.
“No, there’s no one…living here,” he reassures Harker, telling him later, “I don’t drink wine.”
When Harker discovers his host is a vampire, he confronts Dracula: “You are a monster.”
To which Dracula responds calmly: “You are a lawyer, nobody’s perfect.”
On another occasion, Dracula observes, “You are what you eat,” and tells a potential victim, “I have been dying to meet you.”
On a personal note, I ought to recall the first time I was conscious of the legend of Dracula. This happened many years ago during my Daily Mail days when the editor, David English, sent me off to Romania to interview the gymnast Nadia Comaneci. This was when the country was still ruled by Nicolae Ceausescu. Driving at night through Transylvania, which Bram Stoker made the home of Dracula, the dark of the mountains even with the moon up made the place look menacing and forbidding. To be frank, quite scary.
Then in 1998, when the Pakistanis made a film about Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Christopher Lee, who had made his name playing Dracula under the Hammer House of Horror banner, was cast as the Quaid-e-Azam. Lee was a superb actor who told me he did not want to be restricted only to horror films. It didn’t help, though, that Lee had called his autobiography Tall Dark And Gruesome.
Another bit of Dracula history worth mentioning is the Hammer film that didn’t get made. That was about the Prince of Darkness travelling to 1930s India in the Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula. This was turned into a BBC Radio 4 play directed by Mark Gatiss in 2017 with a cast that included some well known names - Nikesh Patel, Meera Syal, Kulvinder Ghir, Anna Madeley, Ayesha Dharker, Raj Ghatak, Lewis MacLeod as Dracula and Michael Sheen as narrator.
“It was nearly made in the early ‘70s on location in India and I was thrilled to assemble a fantastic cast to bring this forgotten gem to gory life,” Gatiss said at the time.
Now he has revived the “undead” - “they lose their ability to die,” Dracula explains - in the BBC TV adaptation. The three parts, each 90 minutes long, are called The rules of the Beast (when Dracula rejuvenates himself by drinking the blood of the visiting lawyer Jonathan Harker), Blood Vessel (when Dracula undertakes a sea voyage to seek fresh blood in England), and the finale, The Dark Compass, set in modern times.
The sea voyage is on the ill-fated Russian ship, The Demeter, whose passengers include a Calcutta-trained medic, Dr Sharma (played by Sacha Dhawan), and his young daughter Yamini (Lily Kakkar). Dracula’s coffin lies on the sea-bed for 123 years. When he stirs again, the year is 2020 and Dracula is ready to bring terror to the Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby. Only he makes the fatal error of drinking the blood of a woman with cancer.
The Guardian review concluded, “Enjoy sinking your teeth into it all,” while a Daily Telegraph critic admitted, “It bit me.”
Some people are even tipping Claes Bang as the next James Bond.