Masterpiece Theatre: Dracula
9-10:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 11
In true undead fashion, Dracula rises anew in this peculiar and superfluous new adaptation of the classic 1897 novel by Bram Stoker that we might call "From Transylvania, With Syphilis." It changes many of the details that have long made Count Dracula such a horrific icon of literature, transforming him into something of a sexual predator who feasts on the blood of his victims for sustenance, yes, but also to satisfy some ambiguous carnal impulse. Not that this is entirely new. It just feels a bit overdone in a "Masterpiece Theatre" entry that carries all of the usual high-end trappings of the franchise: solid performances, rich production design, splendid costumes and sumptuous period detail. But even this classy moniker allows "Dracula" to get turned into a quick-cut piece of business seemingly framed for the short-attention-span crowd.
It doesn't help that our Count (Marc Warren) is plenty demonic but looks disturbing, like a more haggard edition of Fabio. As revised by scribe Stewart Harcourt in this version, the plot now finds him delivering syphilis directly into the bloodstreams of his prey. The Stoker novel is much more vague about what it is Drac does to turn his victims demented, and really I could have lived the rest of my life just fine without having that spelled out. The makeup job on the syphilis sufferers in particular is extraordinary, however, helping mask a production that unfortunately plays with (sorry) more bark than bite.
David Suchet stars here as vampire scholar Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, who feels like he has a pretty good handle on how to combat those fanged night stalkers (garlic, crucifixes, wooden stakes, blah blah). But there's not much he can do about it when Arthur Holmwood (Dan Stevens) learns he contracted syphilis at birth from his mother and seeks out a cure to keep his fiancee, Lucy Westenra (Sophia Myles), from contracting the dreaded malady. Instead, he unwittingly falls in with the Brotherhood of the Undead cult devoted to Dracula worship. He sends lawyer Jonathan Harker (Rafe Spall) to Transylvania to convince the Count to come to England and fashion a cure for him. He might as well seek out an angel in Hell.
It's all suitably chilling and terrifying, and to be fair it does stay true to Stoker's novel in much of the plotting, such as Lucy representing Dracula's regular dinner companion -- albeit with her being dinner and then a vampire -- and having a dead captain at the helm of the Count's ship as it heads into England. But otherwise, this reimagining is far more literal and unsubtle than your daddy's "Dracula," pushing its monstrous visuals and bloodletting to the forefront in a fashion that's not captivating so much as overpowering.
While the telefilm goes to great lengths to paint the requisite dark picture, it doesn't prove satisfying in the way hardcore Dracula fans have come to expect. Then again, sometimes it's tough to stay fresh when you're undead.
MASTERPIECE THEATRE: DRACULA
WGBH Boston and the BBC in association with Granada International
Executive producers: Michele Buck, Damien Timmer, Rebecca Eaton, Julie Gardner
Producer: Trevor Hopkins
Line producer: Robbie Sandison
Director: Bill Eagles
Teleplay: Stewart Harcourt
Adapted from the novel by: Bram Stoker
Director of photography: Cinders Forshaw
Production designer: James Merifield
Costume designer: Amy Roberts
Editor: Adam Recht
Composer: Diminik Scherrer
Casting: Susie Parriss
Abraham Van Helsing: David Suchet
Count Dracula: Marc Warren
Lord Holmwood: Dan Stevens
Lucy Westenra: Sophia Myles
Lord Godalming: Benedick Blythe
Dr. Blore: James Greene
Dr. John Seward: Tom Burke
Alfred Singleton: Donald Sumpter
Mina Murray: Stephanie Leonidas
Jonathan Harker: Rafe Spall
Hawkins: Ian Redford
Cotford: Tanveer Ghani