AMMAN: Having successfully adapted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” books for the small screen in the wildly popular BBC series “Sherlock,” showrunners Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have turned their attention to another beloved novel, Bram Stoker’s gothic-horror “Dracula.”
There are definite parallels with “Sherlock” here. First, both “Dracula” and “Sherlock Holmes” have been adapted so many times for film and television that it’s hard to imagine — at least before viewing — what Gatiss and Moffat believe they can bring to the table that is new. As with “Sherlock,” they quickly prove that’s an unnecessary concern.
Second, it’s clear that the pair are, once again, true fans of the source material. They handle it with sensitivity, but not without irreverence — a crucial part of why they do what they do so well. As in “Sherlock,” the tile character’s vulnerabilities are just as much of a focus as his powers.
And third, they find a surprising amount of humor in the material that isn’t always apparent in the originals. Once again, that’s a welcome bonus for viewers. Even if, in the case of “Dracula,” some of that humor is very dark indeed.
The tale begins in Hungary in 1897. A clearly unwell Englishman called Jonathan Harker finds himself in a convent, where he was taken after some fishermen found him almost (or, not almost) dead. Harker, it turns out, had escaped from Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania and tells the nuns — one in particular; the unconventional Agatha Van Helsing the horrific tale of his time there, featuring vampires and the undead.
Dracula, of course, comes looking for the escapee. And Van Helsing gets to test many of the theories she has accumulated over the years in her study of the occult.
To describe any more of the story would be to ruin a magnificent plot twist at the end of episode two. Suffice to say that it’s worth remembering Count Dracula is centuries old and very difficult to kill.
Danish actor Claes Bang plays the titular villain, and clearly relished the role. By turns sophisticated and savage, sensual and insensitive, Bang’s Dracula is an old-school throwback to Hammer Horror movies and Christopher Lee, but with an arch knowingness that makes him feel utterly modern too.
His nemesis, Van Helsing, is played by Dolly Wells, who shows off a lovely line in deadpan sarcasm and cavalier courage.
Once again, Gatiss and Moffat have proven that — in a crowded field — they are capable of creating the definitive adaptation of a classic.