TV review: Dracula, In Search of Dracula with Mark Gatiss, The Trial of Christine Keeler, and Searching for Sam

10 January 2020

BBC/Hartswood Films/Netflix/Robert Viglasky

Claes Bang plays Dracula in the first episode of the three-part Dracula (BBC 1, New Year’s Day)

Claes Bang plays Dracula in the first episode of the three-part Dracula (BBC 1, New Year’s Day)

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.

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