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'The Legend Takes New Life'... sadly, the second season of 'Dracula' will not be.
on 1 September 2015
'Dracula' is a bold and modern reinvention of Bram Stoker's classic gothic masterpiece, and although it may not boast the strongest scripts or the most interesting dialogue by today's standards, this is nonetheless a very vivid and watchable new take on a legend retold time and time again. 'Dracula: Season One' effectively reignites the spark of forbidden lust and desire that was at the heart of the original novel, but turns up the eroticism a few notches more. Yes, this is a very sexy show, and just as new Dracula Jonathan Rhys Meyers turned Henry VIII into a sex symbol in the outstanding series 'The Tudors', this time he's giving the Prince of Darkness himself the same treatment.
Vampires have always been metaphors for forbidden lust ever since Stoker first conceived the idea back in the 19th Century, and this has been prevalent during the recent vampire renaissance of the modern era. Vampires will always been inextricably linked to sex, and if you're looking for something that is steamy, dark, romantic and tasteful all at the same time, then 'Dracula' should fulfil your wish.
As you might expect, a few changes have been made to the original legend, and most of them work quite well, bar a few exceptions. In this version of the story, Dracula has travelled to London in the guise of wealthy and charismatic American Alexander Grayson, who has come to London to promote a new form of safe and renewable energy that will make Thomas Edison look like an amateur arts dealer. Yes, it's every bit as absurd as it sounds, but in reality Dracula's entire scheme is nothing more than a smokescreen to avoid being detected and to cover up his latest scheme. What better way to avoid detection and suspicion than hiding in plain sight? There's also an ironic poetry about a creature of the night endorsing new forms of light energy. Of course, Dracula's real plan is far more nefarious than merely being a poster boy for efficient energy sources, as he
plots to annihilate a mysterious cult known as 'The Order of the Dragon' from the shadows (an organisation based on a real historical order of the same name.) But after meeting Mina Murray, whom he is convinced is a reincarnation of his dead wife, Ilona, can Dracula's heart's desire lead him to uncover the humanity still left within him, or will it only complicate his plans further? Naturally, I'm not going to spoil anything, but Mina's presence certainly has a profound effective on the old Count.
As you might expect, Rhys Meyers is as intense and brooding as you'd expect his version of Dracula to be, and when he's actually playing Dracula he's definitely at his best. His performance does falter slightly as his Alexander Grayson persona due to his dodgy attempt at an American accent, but considering Dracula isn't American either, maybe this could be interpreted as adding authenticity to the performance. His relationship with his loyal servant, Renfield (Nonso Anozie) is definitely one of the most intriguing aspects of the whole affair, as Renfield's character is both complicated and fascinating to observe, despite his often one-note dialogue and characteristics.
Professor Van Helsing, who is almost as famous as Dracula himself these days, also plays an antagonistic role, but I felt very disappointed by this depiction of Van Helsing, as he lacked the presence and menace necessary to face-off against Rhys Meyer's formidable prowess. Jonathan Harker is also present, but frankly his character is far too dull and bares very little relevance to the plot beyond being a tool to keep Mina in Dracula's orbit. Oliver Jackson-Cohen's performance is also very poor, as he only ever seems capable of being mildly aloof or really pissed off, with no further spectrum to his emotional range.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the relationship between Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra, and while I won't spoil any secrets, the show certainly takes their friendship into unpredictable territory, and it was always with great expectation I waited to see how it would unfold. Jessica De Gouw does a very commendable job as Mina, but really it's Katie McGrath (also Morgana in 'Merlin') who really steals the show, giving an outstanding performance as Lucy throughout the 10 episode run.
While the visuals are a delicious contrast of gas lamps, shadows and dark alleyways, at the end of the day it's the unremarkable writing that really let's this show down. Under the right guidance, and with more experienced writers, 'Dracula' could have been a masterpiece, but the plotting feels far too slow and strangely unsure of itself, and the dialogue is plain and completely charisma-free, and it was always awkward watching Rhys Meyers struggling with material that is clearly below his belt.
On the whole, there is still a lot to recommend here for both fans of Dracula and gothic horror in general, but beware a general feeling of unfulfilled potential that seems to linger throughout this series. It's a shame NBC never renewed this for a second season, but I'd still advice people to watch this gripping on-off, assuming it's to your tastes.