DRACULA (2006)
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This may well be the least faithful and poorest adaptation of a novel ever to appear on America's "Masterpiece Theater". There is very little of the novel in this production and what is there is twisted. Victorians who thought there was little that could be done to make this story less subtle than it already was would be amazed to find how crudely it could be adapted. Nevertheless, I realized watching it that there was a way for the viewer to make it a much more pleasurable experience. Rating: +0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

DRACULA fans, there is a secret to enjoying the 2006 BBC version of DRACULA, showing in the United States on Masterpiece Theater. It is a deplorable reworking of the Bram Stoker novel with no fidelity to the source material and unworthy of the PBS Sunday night venue. Believe me, this is no masterpiece. But if the viewer mentally retitles it DRACULA RETURNS and ignores the character names, it becomes a moderately good sequel in the Hammer Films tradition. Dracula had returned to his homeland at the end of the original story only to be destroyed in sight of his castle. We may assume that (in the Hammer tradition) some loophole has resurrected him and he is back in his castle at the beginning of this film. This is then the story of how he is brought back to England a second time. The film is a little static, but it works much better as a follow-up to the original story than as an adaptation. I could easily be convinced that at some stage this story actually was intended to be a sequel and was retro-fitted inadequately to be a supposed adaptation.

The BBC has been aiming at (or perhaps pandering to) younger audiences of late. Their latest Quatermass is a handsome thirty- something rather than a man in his fifties or older as he is usually cast. The Doctor (a.k.a. Doctor Who) seems of a younger generation each regeneration. Now the BBC is making Dracula somewhat shorter in the tooth. He appears through most of the film as a virile man in his thirties.

Just why the BBC felt it was a good idea to remake DRACULA is a mystery. In 1977 they made COUNT DRACULA which was to that point the most accurate adaptation of the Stoker to a visual medium. The only version that really competes even now is BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. Both take some liberties but generally follow the novel reasonably closely. Fidelity to the novel seems to have been the furthest thing from the mind of Stuart Harcourt who wrote this most recent version. He is more interested in delving into the sexual hang-ups of Victorian England and replacing Stoker's subtle eroticism for much more obvious sex and vampire beefcake.

We have Dracula brought to England, albeit quite willingly, to use his special peculiarities as a possible cure for syphilis. Arthur Holmwood (played by Dan Stevens) wants to marry Lucy Westenra (Sophia Myles) and lusts for her. However, he has inherited syphilis from his father and dares not have sex with her. He believes there is a cure for his condition somewhere in the immortality of Dracula (Marc Warren) and arranges for the vampire to be brought to England. However, once Dracula is in England he is not so easy to control. All this has little to do with the novel, but if one assumes these are all new characters it is at least an acceptable plot. If Hammer Films were resurrected, this is the sort of story they would be doing today.

The production is a little half-hearted, clocking at only about 85 minutes in length. But that is not a moment too short. Even at that abbreviated length it does drag a bit. The characters are not well developed and bear very little relation to our expectations of them from the novel. The acting is stiff, but this is a film set in Victorian times when people were a bit stiff and--dare I say it--bloodless by modern standards. David Suchet, playing Van Helsing, was a promising casting choice, but behind a bushy beard he is lost. He comes off less like Van Helsing than like Ben Gunn. If we are meant to think of this as Stoker's story it is less full of fright and more just frightful. It is not worthy of the place it will have in Dracula trivia. I would rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper