boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe
TELEVISION REVIEW

After campy pop start, 'Dracula' just trickles away

Sophia Myles (right) is Lucy and Stephanie Leonidas plays Mina in the ' Masterpiece Theatre ' production. Sophia Myles (right) is Lucy and Stephanie Leonidas plays Mina in the " Masterpiece Theatre " production. (PBS)

For a while in "Dracula," this week's "Masterpiece Theatre," it looks as though our dentally challenged count is going to be a creature of camp. Portrayed by Marc Warren , who plays con artist Danny Blue on "Hustle," Dracula resembles an overgrown Chucky doll, horror's famous slasher imp. His hair is frizzed out, his imperious face is pocked leatherette, his hands recall the hairy reptilian paws of Jim Carrey's Grinch.

When he lustily sniffs a photo of a young woman and swoons from fantasies of her pulsing jugular, he is a figure of Ed Woodian perversity. And a little later in the movie, which airs tomorrow night at 9 on Channel 2, after he has been revived by fresh blood, Warren's Dracula morphs into a deathly pale Prince Valiant by way of Johnny Depp in "Edward Scissorhands." With its sickly green tint, creaking doors, and cockeyed camera angles that reference the 1960s "Batman," this "Dracula" promises to be a cracked kaleidoscope of demented pop culture.

But all the stylized curiosities come down to very little, as the visual magnetism peters out and writer Stewart Harcourt and director Bill Eagles whittle Bram Stoker's story into nonsense. The new spin in Harcourt's script is that Arthur Holmwood (Dan Stevens ) is about to marry Lucy Westenra (Sophia Myles ), but he doesn't want to have sex with her until he can cure himself of syphilis. Paging Count Dracula from Transylvania, who, Arthur hopes, will transfuse his blood and clean it of disease. Importing Dracula to England involves middle men, including new lawyer Jonathan Harker (Rafe Spall ), who goes to Transylvania for a heaping helping of vampiric hospitality and fares quite differently from the novel's Harker.

"Dracula" has always lent itself naturally to metaphors of sexuality and disease, but this production fails to understand its own potential. The sexual complication between Arthur and Lucy, and later the sensual euphoria that Lucy finds with Dracula, don't add up to much more than shaky plot devices. With richer writing that might have enabled more layered performances, the notion of a man withholding sex in order to protect the woman he loves could have lent itself to great Freudian and cultural resonances.

The two best actors in "Dracula" are wasted. In 1999, Warren walked away with a PBS miniseries adaptation of "Oliver Twist" as Oliver's epileptic half brother, and his turn as a soldier with hysterical blindness in "Band of Brothers" was indelible. But here he doesn't have an opportunity to either humanize Dracula or make him into a scary monster.

And the formidable David Suchet , best known as Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie TV movies, gains almost no footing as Van Helsing the vampire killer. He fits into the movie briefly, and, like the entire production, he ultimately has little impact.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES