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The Most Faithful 'Dracula' Adaptation is an Obscure Made For TV BBC Movie

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so many Draculas, too little accuracy. Despite Bram Stoker’s novel creating the most adapted book-to-screen character of all time, few of those translations show fidelity to the book. Some were limited by budget and streamlined the material (Tod Browning‘s Dracula1931) while others applied a different vision over its bones (Francis Ford Coppola‘s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992). Those films and more are excellent in their own right, and elements of any written drama often require change to suit the differing needs and strengths of a visual medium. Having said that, some of the most compelling and surprising moments in Dracula the book wound up on cutting room floors or were altered entirely. “Did you know the book did this instead?” could make a good party game.


The most faithful adaptation isn’t streaming in the United States, the DVD transfer is bare-bones at best, and even the internet offers little information about its production beyond the apt title: Count Dracula. Aired on the BBC in 1977 and staring French actor Louis Jourdan (gigi) in a wild but inspired pique of vampiric casting, this 155-minute miniseries adapts themes, scenes, and characters rarely, if ever, seen before or after. And all without sacrificing the need for a slick, satisfying, and fun ride regardless of one’s familiarity with its origins.

RELATED: Comparing Universal’s Dueling 1931 ‘Dracula’ Films — Which Is More Unsettling?

What Makes ‘Count Dracula’ So Accurate?

Set in late Victorian London, Bram Stoker’s novel opens with solicitor Jonathan Harker (Bosco Hogan) visiting a client in Transylvania. That client is, of course, the alluring Count Dracula, who terrorizes the local populace. This first section reads like a proto-Hitchcockian thriller as Harker realizes he’s not a guest but the captive of a supernatural evil, while the remaining parts chronicle the havoc Dracula wreaks upon a small group of Harker’s friends in England.

Book enthusiasts and film goers alike can likely thank the longer runtime afforded to a miniseries for why these “did you know?” sequences jumped from page to celluloid. One of the best occurs early during Harker’s stay, when he’s suspicious about his host but not actively concerned. Strange voices and scratching sounds interrupt his evening routine; investigating, he opens a window only to see Dracula crawling on all fours head-first down the castle wall like a cloaked lizard. It’s an abrupt moment in either medium and shatters all sense of safety for Harker, who wanders into a dangerous part of the castle and almost becomes a meal for Dracula’s brides. Upon waking, the question facing him is: was it a nightmare or reality? Although the BBC’s attempts at special effects look dodgy by today’s standards, utilizing one of Stoker’s most unsettling images enhances the growing sense of inescapable dread. Only one film depicted this moment prior to Count Draculaa Turkish version from 1953.

Sometime later in England, Dracula, during a cacophonous storm and in wolf form, crashes through Lucy Westenra’s (Susan Penhaligon) bedroom window. The shock kills Lucy’s already frail mother and allows Dracula to drain an unprotected Lucy at the point of death. The primal fear of facing danger alone (let alone an inexplicable wolf’s head in the window) combined with the dual loss of mother and daughter highlights Dracula’s casual cruelty and how his attacks upon women are violations, not seductions by an anti-hero.

This was also the first iteration to shoot on location in Whitby, a town along the Yorkshire coast the Westenras visit annually and where Dracula first bites a sleepwalking Lucy. The scope of the sprawling hills and crashing waves lends a needed period grandeur, especially when recorded on higher quality film compared to interiors shot on standard video per BBC tradition. Although a happy coincidence, almost every character imperiled by Dracula transitions from glossy outside to claustrophobic inside.

Renfield is Given Empathy

The exception is Jack Shepherd‘s tragically wounded Renfield, who’s allowed on the hospital grounds and is the first interpretation of the character to include his canonical redemption. The mutual empathy he stumbles into with Mina inspires him to defy and attack Dracula in an attempt to protect her. He begs for divine forgiveness with his dying words. Dwight Frye‘s 1931 turn deserves all its fame, but the BBC returns dignity to the much-maligned figure rather than continuing the tired tradition of a man made dangerous from a mental health condition.

And although Coppola’s film depicted the following notable accuracies, the BBC wins on the virtue of who did it first: Professor Van Helsing (Frank Finley) beheading Lucy and filling her mouth with garlic; Dracula’s brides devouring a baby; and Mina Harker (Judi Bowker), Jonathan’s wife, seeing a glimpse of her future when the same brides descend upon her and Van Helsing in the Transylvania wilderness. The first two are particularly impressive given it was primetime 1970s television.

Dracula Isn’t the Main Character

The most essential thematic difference between this miniseries and other versions is simple: Dracula isn’t the main character. Despite driving the action, he’s barely seen after leaving Transylvania and readers never experience his point-of-view. He certainly doesn’t mingle with the human cast and impersonate a mortal, as seen in Dracula 1931, its 1979 kinda-remake starring Frank Langellaand Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to name a few. Not having the Count front and center makes sense given that Stoker wrote in the style of an epistolary novel, where journal entries, letters, and newspaper clippings form a narrative timeline. All of those are documented by a quintet of fictional narrators: Jonathan, Mina, Dr. John Seward (Mark Burns), Van Helsing, and the unfortunate Lucy. Unless Dracula’s a true “big nerd” like Moon Knight dubbed him, he probably didn’t write in his diary every night.

That leaves no effective doubt who the protagonists of this bloody drama are. And readers are privy to their most private introspections thanks to the epistolary style. Laying bare their respective thoughts, fears, and vulnerabilities crafts an immediacy of reality as much as it does intimacy; Stoker’s book reads like a friend reciting his story over (a very long) lunch. Likewise, Count Dracula wastes no time informing viewers who matters. The opening scene introduces Mina and Jonathan as they exchange farewells with the longing tenderness of a happily engaged couple. Lucy, changed from Mina’s friend to her sister (giving her future death more emotional heft), spies on them with a sly grin, as does the girls’ mother. The four talk only briefly before Jonathan departs but demonstrate a fond familial rapport and are deftly characterized with a few strokes.

In contrast, take Bram Stoker’s Dracula opening with the tragedy of Dracula losing his wife and vowing revenge against God. Coppola altering the book’s tone from gothic horror to gothic romance is as opposite of Stoker’s intent as one can get (and wasn’t the first film to understand a romantic Dracula’s appeal), so the director establishing his narrative ideology out of the gate is even more important than usual. It’s a stunning feat, but as far as accuracy goes… well. Bela Lugosi‘s 1931 film wins that challenge despite swapping out Harker for Renfield as the solicitor. Once the Count forces Renfield into his thrall and the man haunts Seward’s home while Dracula haunts the streets, however, any clear focus on a human protagonist is muddled.

Prioritizing the Non-Dracula Characters Feels Right

It’s the intentional decentralizing of Dracula’s presence and the prioritization of the un-undead cast that makes Count Dracula feel right. To be fair, the temptation to focus on Dracula is understandable. His magnetism is intentionally seductive, and that charm makes for fantastic cinema when coupled with the stunning roster of actors who took up his mantle. The BBC miniseries does concede to this with additional scenes showcasing the coiled viper in waiting that is Louis Jourdan, but screenwriter Gerald Savory doesn’t overuse his leading man’s star power to the detriment of the narrative backbone. If anything, think how the jaws shark permeates and affects the film’s scope with little screen time. Like Stoker’s book, this less is more tactic ensures the villain’s violence is tempered by clusters of humane moments that make the audience care about these stridently good heroes rather than seeing soulless stand-ins for Dracula to eviscerate.

Another book element that might surprise with its intensity is religion. One would think this obvious, but symbols like the cross and the Eucharist have been watered down over time into surface level symbolism included as part of the lore. Van Helsing throws up a crucifix and vampires flee (Dracula 1931, Hammer’s Horror of Dracula), etc. The BBC makes sure viewers know these are Good people with a capital G. References to God in the miniseries are kept to a minimum but organically included, like Mina exclaiming “even the Almighty shuns me” and the reverent Van Helsing silently crossing himself and kneeling before touching the holy wafers. Stoker’s overt sexism aside, his story comes down to the most basic idea of ​​good versus evil. It’s not much different from The Lord of the Rings with a fellowship united against a big bad. And even if Stoker’s politics intended otherwise, his God is a god of goodness rather than an evangelical weapon wielded by hate. That idea is exemplified in his characters’ unfailing and selfless care for one another, best visualized when the group joins hands and vows to remain together.

While the special effects in Count Dracula didn’t age well, the chance to watch rare moments unfold is a delight for ardent book fans and a worthwhile surprise for everyone else. Even though other films are enjoyable for their sheer spectacle, there’s something to be said for honoring a storyline above all.