This Fall Tudors star Jonathan Rhys Meyers becomes Dracula. We sat down to preview the first two episodes of NBC’s new drama this week with a handful of reservations. Isn’t the Dracula story tapped out at this stage? Is it possible to inject fresh blood (pardon the pun) into such an old and familiar story? And might the addition of too many ‘clever updates’ serve to alienate classic horror fans? We can honestly say we were pleasantly surprised by what we learned.
The story reintroduces us to Vlad the Impaler (you can go right ahead and call him Dracula), a recently revived vampire and man-about-town, fresh off the boat from the US and ready to shake up the social scene in London. Armed with tons of cash and a false persona, Dracula hides a secret Revengenda that challenges the audience to accept him as the story’s protagonist and not the classic villain of lore.
Masquerading as wealthy entrepreneur Alexander Grayson, Dracula has returned to seek revenge on the Order of the Dragon, a powerful and historic organization whose stock trade is politics and oil. Scratch the surface on the history of this secret group however and you’ll see a medieval order who were not above murder, torture, rape and the odd bit of burning at the stake. The Order were responsible for the murder of Dracula’s wife who, (just like in the novel and movies before it) bears a striking resemblance to one Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw).
Despite its classic Victorian looks, NBC’s Dracula has worked very hard at tweaking the legend in order to give viewers something genuinely fresh to consider. We got the impression that the show’s writers shook down every character and every classic story turn with a view to presenting them in a subtly different light. Mina Murray is an aspiring medical student of Doctor Van Helsing. Johnathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a penniless journalist whose prison doesn’t lie behind the vast walls of Dracula’s castle but in the trappings of wealth and status that Alexander Grayson provides. Lucy (Katie McGrath) is more insidious than her book counterpart, and may have the ability to alter Mina’s good impression of Harker, given enough time – and if she’s not nobbled by Dracula first. The Order of the Dragon employ lethal vampire hunters and mystical seers to track and eliminate the undead. There are rooftop battles, sword fights and of course, rivers of blood. Van Helsing perhaps provides the biggest surprise of the pilot – but we’re not about to spoil you on that plot point.
There are still still plenty of classic Dracula elements for purists to enjoy including miles of cobbled and foggy Victorian streets, bevies of hapless young women falling prey to Dracula’s smile and a tale of love lost between the count and his seemingly reincarnated bride.
The show is layered with metaphor and subtext if you want to look deeply enough for it, too. (Grayson hopes to bring light to the Victorians with his geomagnetic technology – a curious move for a vampire, but an interesting one for a man on a mission to bring the wrongs of the past to light). Meyers is mesmerising in the title role (a lesser actor simply would not do) and the cast of characters – from vampire hunter Lady Jane (Victoria Smurfit) to Nonso Anozie’s dry and unflappable Renfield are thoroughly enjoyable to watch in their own right.
Despite some gouts of flowery language in places, and a tendency for most fight scenes to be shown in slow-mo, Dracula is both bold and sexy, and deserves to be checked out Friday October 25th at 10 pm ET on NBC.
Dracula is executive produced by Colin Callender, Tony Krantz, Gareth Neame and Daniel Knauf.