On this day in 1897 a book called Dracula was published for the first time. In a strange bout of synchronicity my screenwriting group is looking at three screen adaptations of Dracula: Dracula (1931), the BBC mini-series Count Dracula (1977), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Afterwards, we’re going to a screening of the marvellous Swedish vampire film, Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In – 2008).
I’d been tipped off about the 1970s BBC version while doing research for the public interview with Kim Newman last month. Everyone who’d seen it heaped the adaptation with high praise, so I was interested in watching it. The series was adapted by Gerald Savory and directed by Philip Saville, and is by far the best and most faithful adaptation of the novel. Most film versions are riffs on the stage play, which was first produced in England in 1924.
Savory cleverly makes Mina and Lucy sisters. This could have been for the purposes of budget and location – fewer sets – but it makes a lot of sense in regard to streamlining the story. While this adaptation of Dracula evidences a number of quirky 1970s sensibilities and effects, there is also terrific acting, and a certain patience with the story. This is certainly the most faithful adaptation of the novel to the screen, and has become one of my favourites.
I’m less enamoured of the original Dracula, mainly because it’s a film very much of its time. There’s a lot of emphasis on getting the concept of vampires right out in the open, partly because that wasn’t such a well-known fable in its day. Now, it comes across as overkill. But, Tod Browing has some excellent moody shots, executed without any dialogue, which makes me forgive some of its melodramatic excesses. And the Renfield is superb. Surprisingly, the Van Helsing character is rather understated, and I enjoyed the one-on-one showdown between the count and the Dutch scientist.
Originally I didn’t have much time for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, partly because there’s a great deal of invention: in particular the reincarnation storyline. However, the style and the direction of the film have grown upon me. I can now appreciate the influences of German expressionism in Coppola’s version. Ultimately the film is a love story, with a lush, Gothic, and torrid atmosphere. The accents are all pretty dreadful, and Hopkins’ Van Helsing is probably my least favourite interpretation of the character. Still, there is a palpable frisson between Ryder and Oldman, which elevates their scenes.
Happy Birthday Dracula. You continue to inspire books and films, long after your first, humble publication.