This Dracula review contains spoilers. It originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
Dracula Episode 3
If Dracula hadn’t ended his own life, I might have done it for him. Anything to get off this finale’s spinning carousel of orphaned plot threads, hand-wavy explanations and charmless characters. After a supremely entertaining start and a boldly reinvented middle, Dracula screamed to a convoluted end that shed its best qualities and replaced them with too much of nothing in particular.
A lack of Sister Agatha was the major issue. Dolly Wells’ fast-talking Dutch nun has been this adaptation’s stand-out creation. She led us capably through the weird-but-it-works combination of true horror and true laughs in part one, then burst out of a coma to become the hero of part two. Relegated to just a few scenes here, none of her replacements – even the one played by Dolly Wells – could fill the gap. Gatiss and Moffat giveth and they taketh away.
Sometimes, they giveth too much. This finale, directed by Sherlock‘s Paul McGuigan, had an excess of ideas and a stuffed itinerary of places to be. From the beach to Katherine and Bob’s house to the club to the Institute to the graveyard to Drac’s bachelor pad to Zoe’s hospice, stopping in at various expressionist hallucinatory ruins, flashbacks and visitations along the way, it zipped dizzyingly around. The cameras never stopped long enough at a single location to build an atmosphere. It was a bombardment, missing the elegant containment of the castle, convent or ship.
For all the movement, time also dragged. Knowing that the Count was out there (and hoping for Agatha’s return) made you impatient to see the back of the bland Jack Seward and his unrequited love story. The pairing of the Count and Mark Gatiss’ lackey lawyer Frank Renfield just didn’t have the comedy or fizz of the combination of the Count and Agatha. Jack, Lucy, Frank, Zoe … there was just nobody to revel in.
Much of the finale was pegged to a main plot from Stoker’s novel – the story of Lucy Westenra, a much-courted young beauty drained and turned into a child-abducting vampire by Count Dracula. Played by Years and Years’ terrific Lydia West (credited on IMDb only as the novel’s ‘Bloofer Lady’ to keep another surprise), Lucy was beautiful, shallow and adored, just like her literary counterpart.
Fidelity to the source material though, did this modern Lucy no favors. Barely a character in the book, she was similarly undeveloped here – more wet dream than person. Variously turned on by Dracula, by dancing, by death … West wasn’t given much to play beyond open-mouthed nymphet. Until that is, Lucy got her comeuppance. Uneasily, her downfall from beauty to monster had the satisfied moralistic ring of vanity being punished – an uncomfortable take from a drama otherwise happy to giggle at its own devilish transgressions.
Giggling was in short supply all-round. As the finale went on, the laughs dropped off. The climax, in which an Agatha-channelling Zoe diagnosed the Count’s true condition: self-hating shame due to his fear of dying (it wasn’t world domination and offspring he sought after all, but death, which is what drew him back to fearless Lucy time and again) played out without a twinkle or a gag.
By that point, the rules of the beast had been twisted and turned and wrung out to deliver yet more surprises. Sunlight didn’t harm Dracula, he just thought it did. He was afraid of the cross because it represented the courage it takes to die. The needing-an-invitation thing? Shh, grown-ups are talking. Blood is lives.
However untethered the ending, this was a bold, witty retelling that took risks and bubbled with ideas, something not to be taken for granted. It gave us talking points, memorable images and new takes on an endlessly repeated story, as well as the not-insignificant gifts of Claes Bang and Dolly Wells (more lead roles for those two, please). And, to quote the wise words of rock and roll’s Meatloaf, two out of three ain’t bad.