WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for BBC’s Dracula.
BBC’s Dracula is one of the most divisive takes on the horror icon ever — and for good reason. The three-episode series does well to detail his journey from Transylvania to England aboard the Demeter. But right after the ship sinks and Claes Bang’s Vlad the Impaler is placed in a watery tomb, the finale ventures into Game of Thrones territory and jumps the shark.
While it didn’t stick the landing, up until that point it’s hard to deny that from the aura of horror and the overall silky smooth vibe of the character, Bang’s Dracula really is the best representation of the vampire ever.
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Classic versions of Dracula portrayed by Bela Lugosi in the ’30s or Christopher Lee in the ’70s will forever remain etched in our hearts. But they leaned more towards the horror and sinister shadow of the character. Sure, we got the politics and deception of the Count by way of his forked tongue, but these portrayals didn’t feel aligned with Bram Stoker’s hints of the elegant playboy Dracula was meant to be, which Gary Oldman did well to bring out in the 1992 film.
But this balance here, especially with Bang’s contemporary presence, really makes this depiction tick. Modern Draculas such as Gerard Butler from Dracula 2000, Johnathan Rhys Myers in the 2013 NBC TV series, Luke Evans from Dracula Untold and Richard Roxburgh from Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing tried to capture this spirit to update the role but again, it was tough to mix in the warlord dynamic with the beast and the ladies’ man.
While Bang’s version doesn’t have much of the warlord to him, we do see bits of the Impaler come out when he slaughters a bunch of nuns in the first episode. It’s more than enough to show his warrior side but this series focuses more on the side of him that’s about romanticism, allure and mind games. His seduction of Lucy and the Van Helsing women — Sister Agatha in the 1800s and Zoe in 2020 — is a chess game; part of him evolving into the alpha he thinks the world deserves.
He’s also a complete narcissist, and this ego is what’s driving him to infect the continent. But in this mission he’s still shown to feel conflicted, once more bearing the mark of Stoker’s novel. Here, he wants kids but he doesn’t believe in love; he desires peace but he doesn’t believe in justice, and so on, which creates a duality within we can appreciate. There’s a constant tug-of-war between the light and the dark to the point that it’s a fine line as to whether or not he’s a true villain or an antihero, as seen in the finale where he tries to save Zoe.
The way he goes about all these schemes is also pretty cerebral. He worked an infected Jonathan Harker with the notion of mercy killing so he could get an invite to murder the nuns. The game of Clue he plays aboard the Demeter so he could suck the right memories from the right people is just as utterly fascinating.
And, seeing as he has lawyers waiting for him centuries later, the BBC’s Dracula is clearly a proactive captain of industry rather than a king running on emotion. He has contingency plans for everything and when he’s not using mind games, he’s spilling blood using amazing powers to build his empire. He can command zombies, wolves, bats and with the “Blood is lives” mantra, he’s somewhat psychic as he can drain people of all they know.
This all makes the BBC’s Dracula as intimidating as it gets — coming off like a man of a thousand lives as he absorbs their memories. Because his victims are now living inside him, he’s not just a one-dimensional villain, either: he’s a vagrant, a shipman, a street-savvy crook and an aristocrat, all rolled into one.
Dynasties are in him, giving us a complex, layered and very thought-provoking smooth talker. This idea is perfectly summed up when he transforms from the inside of a wolf outside Agatha’s convent in the first episode. It’s not clean like the X-Men’s shapeshifter, Mystique. Instead, he rises up from the animal’s guts in a vomit-inducing sequence to show his story is steeped in muck, grime and blood. He may masquerade around most days and nights in suits and fine cloth, but deep down, this is the monster and creature we were always meant to be afraid of.
Zoe realizes this when they imprison him in a tech-driven cell in the present-day — as if he were Hannibal Lecter or a James Bond villain. And by the time he escapes using the judicial system and then bleeds England’s rave crowd and Tinder audience dry, you can tell that while he’s handsome on the outside, he’s well and truly a demon on the inside, just like Stoker intended.
Executive produced by Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue and Ben Irving, Dracula stars John Heffernan, Dolly Wells, Joanna Scanlan, Sacha Dhawan, Jonathan Aris, Morfydd Clark, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Claes Bang as Count Dracula. The miniseries debuted on BBC One Jan. 1 and can now be streamed on Netflix.