Past collaborators, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, have re-connected to resurrect another old, popular intellectual property. Previously, the duo re-imagined Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective for their hit BBC series, Sherlock. Now Gatiss and Moffat are dipping back into classic literature for their latest series. This time around they’re dusting off Bram Stroker’s Dracula, which has arguably been adapted more than any other literary source. Initially released on BBC at the start of the year, Netflix is now streaming the three-episode limited series. But can Gatiss and Moffat find anything new and interesting to do with a character that has haunted movie and television screens so many times?
Rules of the Beast Takes Us Back to Transylvania
Dracula’s first episode, Rules of the Beast, splits its narrative into two timelines set in two different locations. As the show opens, an emaciated Jonathan Harker recounts his escape from Dracula’s castle to two nuns in a Budapest convent. The episode’s second timeline more closely follows Stoker’s novel as Harker arrives in Transylvania. Ignoring the locals’ warning, Harker discovers an old, sickly Count Dracula. Soon Harker finds himself a prisoner in the castle. As each night passes, Harker grows weaker, while Dracula becomes younger and his English improves.
…Rules of the Beast, splits its narrative into two timelines set in two different locations.
Though Harker initially believes he’s alone in the castle, he finds a woman wandering its halls. But she is one of the undead – Dracula’s bride, locked in a box for the Count to feed on. When Dracula finds Harker, he drags him to the castle’s peak for one last look at the sun before he dies. But in a fortunate twist of fate, Harker’s crucifix reflects sunlight onto the Count allowing Jonathan to cast himself into the river below.
Dracula Meets His Match in a Surprising Van Helsing
If Gatiss and Moffat slightly fiddle with Stoker’s story at castle, they flip things completely in their second timeline. Harker’s stay at the Budapest convent reveals that he is in fact undead and linked to Dracula. Yet that’s only the first of two twists. Rules of the Beast’s next reveal is that the quiet nun sitting in on Harker’s confessional is in fact his fiancé – Mina. Unfortunately, Dracula doesn’t do anything interesting with the character. Not that it’s a problem because the next reveal is even better. The irreverent nun is Sister Agatha … Van Helsing.
Too bad a desperate Harker offers Dracula an invitation as a way to end his own suffering.
Things pick up in Rules of the Beast when Dracula turns up at the convent’s gates looking for Harker. After a pretty impressive transformation from wolf to man (or vampire), Dracula confronts Sister Agatha. Not unlike the literary inspiration for her character, Sister Agatha proves to be more than a match for the count. She assembles the convent’s sisters, each one armed with a stake, and taunts the Count who can’t enter. Too bad a desperate Harker offers Dracula an invitation as a way to end his own suffering. After he decimates the sisters, Dracula finds Sister Agatha and Mina … while wearing Harker’s face, which he peels away in a fun, gory scene. Cue the credits.
Rules of the Beast Mixes Up Enough to Entertain
Much like how they revived Sherlock Holmes, Gatniss and Moffat have mixed the familiar with modern sensibilities to largely successful results. Aside from its narrative flipping back and forth between past and present, Rules of the Beast initially tells the story we’ve all read or seen. Dolly Wells’ nun hints at some of the more punch dialogue that characterizes the series. However, once Claes Bang’s Count Dracula enters, the series plays with its source material. Several changes to vampire mythology are welcome, fueling some renewed interest in the character. In particular, Dracula’s ambiguous fear of religious artifacts opens up potentially new directions for the myth. And the climatic convent confrontation is bloody fun.
Both Bang’s Dracula and Dolly Wells’ Sister Agatha Van Helsing are also entertaining updates on familiar characters. As the titular Dracula, Bang brings something new in his mix of the aristocrat and contemporary psychopath. Though it takes a little getting used to in Rules of the Beast, by episode’s end, Bang’s Dracula feels like an undead Patrick Bateman. His callousness and wicked humour distinguishes this iteration of the character from Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Frank Langella. And Lolly’s take on Van Helsing makes it more than just a gender swap for the sake of change. Arguably, Lolly’s Van Helsing is this episode’s most interesting character. Just as sharp and sardonic as the Count, Lolly’s van Helsing promises to be an intriguing foil.
Dracula Puts Enough of a Fun Spin on its Source Material
With each episode running at about 90 minutes, Gatiss and Moffat are seemingly filling blanks in Stoker’s novel while playing fast and loose with vampire mythology. By the conclusion of Rules of the Beast, the formula mostly works. Its Gothic setting harkens back to Hammer Film’s glory days. But its vampire carnage and sharp humour feels contemporary. Throw in great performances from Claes Bang and Dolly Wells, and Netflix’s Dracula has a lot of potential.