I approached this with some scepticism: it’s on Sky Living, it stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers and it’s yet another reworking of Dracula. These seemed to me good reasons to watch this show with fairly low expectations.
Well, 4 episodes in and I’m impressed.
It’s stylish, atmospheric, engaging, sexy without being trashy, and much more subtle and restrained than I expected. It looks gorgeous with eastern European-inspired interiors that reference Dracula’s Transylvanian origins, clever use of light and shade and sudden splashes of colour that have a pleasing gaudiness, enhancing the undercurrent of menace. The relatively measured pace of the show creates a darkly brooding atmosphere and a sense of foreboding that’s genuinely unsettling. The violence has, so far, been sparing and so is all the more effective when it comes.
It’s set in the Victorian London of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper (who is nicely referenced in Ep 1 as a cover story concocted to explain vampire attacks) and clichés abound (fog, horse-drawn carriages, dirty cobbled back-streets, seedy opium dens) but it’s all so entertaining that it doesn’t matter.
In this version creator Cole Haddon has provided an interesting twist on Bram Stoker’s original tale: most notably Renfield (Nonso Anozie) is not a crazy bug-eating disciple but Dracula’s loyal right hand man and Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann) is a surprising ally as they work together to fight a common enemy, the ancient Order of the Dragon (like the Masons but really, really evil). Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), as in the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola film to which this version owes much (minus the hysterically bad acting), is the supposed reincarnation of Dracula’s beloved dead wife but is also plucky, independent and a star medical student under the tutelage of Van Helsing. Her fiancé Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), less stiff-upper-lippy than in previous adaptations, is a journalist employed by Dracula to help provide inside information on the Order. Mina’s best friend Lucy Westenra (Katie McGrath), is wealthy and slightly spoiled and devoid of her traditional trio of male suitors and in their place is a whiff of romantic interest in Mina. There’s also an interesting female vampire hunter, Lady Jayne Wetherby (Victoria Smurfit), taking the traditional Van Helsing role although I find her a bit too comedy dominatrix to take her seriously (also she’s still not worked out who Dracula is even though she’s sleeping with him which makes her the crappest vampire hunter ever).
Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) himself is a self-styled wealthy American entrepreneur, Alexander Grayson, supposedly in London to advance his scientific inventions (a light-bulb that glows but seems to take an army of minions and several deaths to power – I don’t think it’ll catch on). Of course his real plan is to bring about the destruction of his enemies (the aforementioned Order) because they murdered his wife (and Van Helsing’s family) and are an unpleasantly smug bunch of male aristocrats who frankly deserve a bit of throat-ripping. Rhys Meyers is excellent giving an understated performance that I found surprising after his role as everyone’s favourite maniacal monarch in The Tudors. He lurks effectively in shadowy corners with very well-groomed facial hair and fixes all around him with a chillingly piercing stare.
So far, so intense and I’m intrigued to see how it develops.
Episode 5 is on Sky Living, Thursday 28 November, 9pm