IRREFUTABLE proofs of Christianity were unexpectedly featured on BBC1 last week. Unfortunately, as they included the efficacy of consecrated hosts or crucifixes as means of making vampires desist from their evil intentions, I cannot expect a huge surge in numbers signing up to an Alpha Course near you.
BBC1’s three-part Dracula was a monumental undertaking: three 90-minute episodes, launching on New Year’s Day; marvellous location work shot in atmospheric medieval castles and convents; a starry cast — what could go wrong? Well, almost everything. It was a very free adaptation of Bram Stoker’s original, loading down the novel with, on the one hand, a weight of extended significance, and, on the other, with post-Fleabag knowing camp that split it asunder: it is, after all, a slight work.
Reimagining Van Helsing as a (very beautiful) agnostic nun might create interesting new dimensions to the work, but giving her pages of cod-theological dialogue lowered the temperature. Some of the problems were revealed by Mike Gatiss, in In Search of Dracula with Mike Gatiss (BBC2, Friday).
Gatiss took us on a tour d’horizon of cinematic interpretations and Stoker’s inspirations, and we quickly realised that this is, for him, an obsession that has grown in intensity. His infatuation has, surely, clouded his judgement: he displayed a surer touch when using the tropes of vampirism to comic effect in The League of Gentlemen.
BBC1 exhumes another corpse in its new six-part series The Trial of Christine Keeler (Sundays). I suspect that John Profumo is not portrayed with the charisma that made him, at the time, a likely contender for the post of Prime Minister. Here, instead, we have another tawdry depiction of how powerful men can find pretty, hard-up girls as willing sexual partners.
The real delight, however, is Keeler herself: at once vulnerable and knowing — a victim, yet capable of causing mayhem all around her, engaging our sympathy as she desperately seeks any means to escape the stifling dreariness of her background, but dimly aware that the glamour of early-1960s London high life is utterly superficial.
The story represents the death throes of traditional deference and social hierarchies; and the birth-pangs of swinging London are here deftly and lightly painted rather than relentlessly hammered home.
BBC4 closed the old year in fine style with Searching for Sam: Adrian Dunbar on Samuel Beckett (Monday of last week). This pilgrimage visited crucial places that formed and influenced the writer, interviewing friends and colleagues. His pared-down, sombre vision was true to 20th-century appalling wars and deprivations, and yet always expressed deep compassion and humour in and for the human predicament.