Count Dracula (BBC2, 22 December 1977, Philip Saville)


These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Much the same as the book – Transylvania, London and Whitby. The plaque on Lucy’s coffin tells us it’s 1892.

Faithful to the novel? Astonishingly so. It’s perhaps the most sympathetic retelling of Stoker’s story. There are a few changes but they’re all sensible improvements… The story now has a prologue scene of Jonathan saying goodbye to Mina before he heads abroad. Dracula always looks the same age. Mina and Lucy are sisters rather than just friends. And Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris have been economically merged into one character: an American called Quincey P. Holmwood.

Best performance: Susan Penhaligon is fantastic as Lucy Westenra, especially once the character has been affected by Dracula – her transformation and death are horrific and unsettling.

Best bit: Jonathan Harker’s vivid, nightmarish encounter with Dracula’s Brides uses every video-editing trick under the moon. It’s a marvellous sequence, full of dislocating cuts, the sound dropping out and being mixed oddly, and the image decaying like it’s been copied dozens of times. Chilling stuff.

Review: This magnificent 150-minute TV movie was shown on BBC2 in 1977. There’s a dramatic title sequence, which sets the scene: dark, moody, Gothic and scored not by music but by the sounds of a storm. The whole film is pure horror, in fact, and the number of unnerving scenes mounts up. Dracula’s brides eat a baby. Harker finds Dracula and his brides in their coffins. Dracula seduces Lucy in the dead of night. Lucy slowly transforms into a vampire. Vampire Lucy menaces people in a graveyard. Vampire Lucy is staked in her coffin. Renfield is beaten to death. Mina goes mad after Dracula seduces her while Jonathan sleeps beside her. Mina drinks from Dracula’s open chest wound. The sense of terror is extraordinary for a BBC drama shot in a television studio. It also gets out on film, though – most notably to the real Whitby, where locations from the novel are used for the relevant scenes. If there’s a downside, the film can’t solve the problems inherent in Stoker’s novel: that the characters are cyphers and that the plot peters out with a limp climax. But a decent cast – especially Louis Jordan, who’s *mesmerising* as the Count – make up for any failings, while the stylish direction adds depth and texture to everything.

Nine hairy palms out of 10

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