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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Masterpiece Theater) (review)

How faithful is faithful when it comes to cinematic adaptations of literary material? The word syphilis doesn’t appear anywhere in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it’s still a matter of debate as to whether the author suffered from the terrible ailment while he was writing his book, but the concept of vampirism as metaphor for sexually transmitted disease has, well, haunted tales of the night-dwelling count since the beginning. Here, in the British TV production that aired earlier this year in the United States on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, it takes center stage as fears of the brain-wasting and personality-altering impact of syphilis vie with the affects of vampirism for the title of Biggest Horror. The upshot? While this isn’t a strict transferal of Stoker to the screen, it feels like it is, feels particularly and peculiarly Victorian, for all that it also accords an early sense of nascent feminism to its female characters, particularly the luscious Sophia Myles (Tristan & Isolde) as the doomed Lucy. (Marc Warren plays Count Dracula as a compromise between the monster of Stoker and the sexualized creature of later depictions, but fascinatingly, the humans are far more intriguing than he is.) Fresh and erudite, this is a valuable new angle on an old story. Though the film is not rated, it’s appropriate only for adults; there are no extras to speak of on the disc. [buy at Amazon]

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MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

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