Bela Lugosi. Christopher Lee. Gary Oldman. Frank Langella. Four great actors who’ve managed to make Bram Stoker’s iconic character their own. Hoping to follow in their sizeable footsteps is Jonathan Rhys Meyers as The Tudors star takes on the role of literature’s greatest romantic anti-hero in this sumptuous new co-production from NBC and Sky Living.
Set in sort-of Victorian England (period accuracy is not this series’ strong point or, according to producer Gareth Neame, concern), the series sees Vlad Tepes of legend resurrected from a spiky grave and relocate to London, posing as American industrialist Alexander Grayson.
While his purpose is ostensibly to bring modern science to the masses, negotiating a confusing split personality along the way, the moustachioed miscreant actually has a much darker goal in mind – unsurprising, really, what with him being the grandaddy of all vampires and everything.
The rest of the players in Dracula’s game are mostly recognisable from the stories of old – from saucy ‘It’ girl Lucy Westenra (Katie McGrath, doing her trademark Morgana smirk at every opportunity) and gauche journalist Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) to inscrutable doctor Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann) and, of course, the object of Vlad’s obsession – not to mention many an intense stare from Rhys Meyers – Miss Mina Murray (Jessica De Gauw).
Throw in Victoria Smurfit’s sophisticated, tightly-corseted socialite Lady Jane and we’ve got ourselves a party – literally, actually, as we meet each of them at a convenient classy shindig thrown by Grayson.
Obviously there’s something sinister going on behind the shiny facade Grayson presents to the world. An evil bloodsucker he might be, but Drac’s not simply about getting himself some neck – and he’s not necessarily the villain of this piece, despite all the murdering that he gets up to. Determined to avenge the killing of his Mina-a-like missus back in the 15th Century, Vlad is secretly plotting the destruction of the mysterious and sinister Order of the Dragon – an exclusive brotherhood of high society bods who run Victorian London to their liking, along with a neat sideline in vampire slaying. You can see why he wants them gone.
Safe, solid performances from the cast (including Rhys Meyers’ facial hair and Victoria Smurfit’s chest) and a rather attractive steampunk aesthetic make for a half-decent first episode. But this isn’t a pilot that will make anyone sit up straight and pay attention. It’s exposition heavy and rather plods along, playfully pulling at the threads of something that could potentially be interesting, but only giving us the mildest curiosity to find out more.
Those who can be bothered to persevere to Episode 2 might get something worth sinking their teeth into, but others hoping for a bit of Francis Ford Coppola-esque action are likely to give up at the first flash of fang.