The 2006 BBC production of Dracula is the latest version that’s loosely based on Stoker’s novel that I’ve seen, and brings our journey on this series to an end for now. The 2002 Italian mini-series and Canadian silent film homage (also 2002) I may return to at some point, but as a self contained adaptation of the novel, I’ve settled on the BBC presentation as my final stop on the Stoker film trail. There is a more recent 3D version of the story, but again, one I shall perhaps view and return to on here in the future.
I first saw the 2006 BBC version during the Christmas season it was first screened, and I wasn’t over thrilled to give it another viewing because although I’d originally found it reasonably entertaining, it had not made a huge impact on me at the time. But my interest in the whole Dracula/Vampire/Classic Horror genre has been building into something of a personal renaissance in recent years so I’ve been quite keen to give it a proper re-evaluation. So it still came as something as a surprise to me that I got a bit bored halfway through watching this version, and if anything it had even less impact on me than it did nearly seven years ago.
I think part of the problem is that it deviates quite a lot from the original Stoker storyline, and seems to concentrate on tangents of its own, which changes the characters and their motivations quite significantly. Most of the first fifteen minutes is spent dealing with Holmwood’s syphilis condition. Whilst I did think Holmwood was quite well portrayed, and I ironically felt some sympathy with a character that changed from a poetry reading, smitten young man into a hard, manipulative, downright moody bastard. It sets up a whole new strand to the way Dracula is actually brought into the story, especially with a religious cult being introduced to the tale.
Initially, I was impressed with Marc Warren as the ‘old’ Dracula. I thought he looked quite convincing, and he used his voice to good effect. He really does sound like an ancient being, and his accent is convincing. The sets of Dracula’s castle are impressive, but I don’t think it looks half as good as the BBC production of 1977, and it doesn’t project as much atmosphere to me either. I thought the scenes at the castle were commendable, but I was disappointed that the ‘brides’ sequence was omitted, and when Marc Warren transforms into the young Dracula, I have to say that that’s where I really start to lose faith in this version.
Marc Warren, while a decent enough actor, just looks too young to carry off the necessary gravitas that a character like Dracula must have. Maybe if they had made him up slightly differently and not given him that silly wig to wear, then he might’ve got away with it, because he is clearly capable of acting the role, but he just looks like he belongs in a re-make of Blow Up, playing a member of the Yardbirds or something. Despite his capabilities as an actor, I’m afraid for me, he just doesn’t convince as Dracula, and if the central character doesn’t convince, I would have to judge that it’s a serious blow to the production as a whole.
The film then wastes more time concerned with Lucy and Arthur’s wedding, and the new storyline of the religious cult, and Lucy’s lack of marriage consummation, whilst intercutting with sparse moments from the ship on which Dracula is travelling. But there another opportunity is wasted as we don’t really see anything taking place aboard ship whilst valuable time is spent on all this other peripheral stuff.
For me, it takes the production until 50mins in before we get to the next really memorable scene, which is the seduction and vampirism of Lucy, which is well played by Warren and Sophia Myles, and is visually quite effective. But again, it’s at this point that Van Helsing would normally start to take a hand in things. But for some bizarre reason the writers of this version have kept the second most central character to this story out of the main sequence of events, which to my mind is another impediment to the production as a whole. By the time of Lucy’s ‘death’ before her vampiric resurrection, the film is almost an hour in, and I was starting to struggle to maintain interest.
Much of the last half hour of the film doesn’t have a lot of impact on me. Dracula kills a couple of his disciples, John and Mina find Van Helsing, who’s well enough played by David Suchet, but the impact of the character is curtailed not only by him not featuring much in the grand scheme of things, but also by making him seem older than necessary (he looks a bit like a fake Father Christmas). There’s a memorable appearance for Sophia Myles, who’s suitably sultry and sexy as the vampire Lucy, and to be fair, her staking is also a good scene, but the eventual despatching of Dracula himself doesn’t seem as effective somehow, regardless of the brutal death of Holmwood along the way, who unconvincingly has his head pulled off……
So, in summary, there are good things about the production: the performances are generally good, despite my reservations about Marc Warren, Sophia Myles is an excellent Lucy, both from an acting point of view, and because she’s rather gorgeous of course. It does have a few atmospheric scenes, and a nice score, but ultimately it’s the meandering storyline that takes the steam out of it for me. That and a wasted Van Helsing, and we have a Dracula that ultimately doesn’t convince.