Dracula is resurrected by a mysterious ally and reinvents himself as American entrepreneur Alexander Grayson in order to destroy the powerful Order of the Dragon. Mina Murray and Jonathan Harker attend Dracula’s society soiree and get more attention from their host than expected.
The show opens in darkness, suddenly penetrated by the light of the sun through an opening forged by a pickaxe. Two shadowy figures enter the ruins of a tomb, uncovering an ornately designed Medieval coffin. Romania, 1881. When the coffin is opened, they find a decrepit corpse inside, mouth stretched wide as if in agony, and baring a pair of vampiric fangs. The one man quickly becomes food to revive the corpse, as the leader cuts his throat and allows his blood to flow into the gaping mouth of the carcass. Before long, the sallow cheeks fill in, the eyes open wide, the skin rehydrates, and the lifeless body is transformed into the blood soaked Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Almost immediately we are treated to a scene of Meyers emerging sexily and soaking wet from a bathtub, lingering on his naked torso before he covers up with layers of stylish evening dress. London, 1896.
This is followed by Dracula practicing his American schtick before his high society soiree. Dracula is posing as an American industrialist and entrepreneur called Alexander Grayson, who must be as American as “God, guns, and bourbon” in order to pull it off. This begins the string of jokes regarding American stereotypes and ostentation. Lucy Westenra (Katie McGrath), Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), and Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) are all in attendance for Dracula’s grand entrance into British society. Before Dracula even says a word to his guests, his breath is taken away the moment his eyes fall on Mina. Mina is likewise affected, and there is some implication that Mina may be the reincarnation of Dracula’s lost love. Dracula proceeds to mingle with his guests, particularly Sir Clive Dawson, Lord Laurent, and Lord Davenport, a group of prominent oil businessmen. The moment Dracula asks about obtaining certain coolant patents for use in his own technological projects, he is brushed aside with a comment about British business being for the British, not for “interloping Colonials”. However, he soon shows them up by drawing electricity from the magnetosphere to wirelessly light a bunch of light bulbs. This impresses his high profile guests and alarms the oil men that Dracula is a potential adversary. After the party is over, Dracula promptly takes his revenge on the rude Sir Clive by tearing open his throat.
It turns out that Dracula is uncovering a secret collective called the Order of the Dragon, a group of people who wield power through industry and politics, and who were responsible for the death of his wife hundreds of years previous. Dracula details the history of the Order to his assistant R.M. Renfield (Nonso Anozie) while laying out dossiers on Britain’s most prominent businessmen and politicians. The Order used to rule by cross and sword, raping, pillaging, and killing as they pleased, and burning people at the stake. Dracula plans to remove power from the Order’s hands by shifting the market away from oil in favor of his own geomagnetic technology. In theory, the one who holds the way of the future holds power over the future.
However, the Order has knowledge and training against vampires and has been covering up their existence for years (with Jack the Ripper being a prominent, if obvious, cover story for a vampiric rampage). Lady Jane (Victoria Smurfit), an enigmatic and self-possessed woman whom Dracula met at his party, is a skilled and dangerous member of the Order. The Order has their huntsman, Kruger, investigate the death of Sir Clive, but there was too much damage to find any signs of vampiric feeding. The death of Sir Clive puts the Order on alert for enemies of any kind. Lady Jane suggests that Kruger is sent to watch the houses of the High Counsel.
Jonathan arrives at Dracula’s house for a prearranged interview. Dracula has to constantly avoid a ray of light coming through a window, and burns his hand when he is forced to shake Jonathan’s hand in the sunlight. During the interview, Jonathan comes to the conclusion that Dracula is “visionary’, ‘delusional’, and ‘egotistical’. Dracula claims that his mission is to help the human species evolve.
Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann) is introduced as Mina’s medical school professor, and Mina as his hopefully research assistant. While she is clearly a bright student and a favorite of Van Helsing, when she speaks to him about the research position he tells her that she needs to work on her surgical technique. He gives her some advice about how a steady hand takes a steady heart. The heart never lies, he says. The very next scene is of Dracula stalking Mina, but choosing another victim rather than assaulting her.
Jonathan, Mina, Lady Jane, and Dracula all attend the opening night of the opera season, during which Dracula meets with Lady Jane for secret opera box sex, while Dracula gazes fixedly at Mina in the opera box across the way. That same night, a conversation between Lord Davenport and Lord Laurent reveals that Dracula bought up all Sir Clive’s coolant shares after he was killed, and that he now has a seat on the board of directors. Dracula is caught watching Lord Laurent’s house, who is apparently a High Counsel member, and Kruger attacks him. Dracula wins the fight, and as Kruger dies he is the first to identify this hitherto unnamed vampire as Dracula.
Lady Jane shows off her fighting skills as she trains in a basement where an imprisoned lady vampire is kept. The lady vampire refuses to say who sired her or what drew her to London, but promises that her kind will take over the city and that the vampires will soon be legion. Van Helsing pays Dracula a visit, revealing that he is the one who resurrected him in order to take down the Order of the Dragon in recompense for killing his own family. Dracula’s wife was one of those burned alive at the stake hundreds of years ago by the Order of the Dragon. Mina awakes from a nightmare about being burned at the stake.
The good news is that the production values of this show are really high. Everything from the costumes to the set is stylish, luxuriant, and highly detailed. The show is really well shot and extremely atmospheric. The interview scene between Jonathan and Dracula is particularly striking – Dracula sitting in darkness, Jonathan in the light, a wide shaft of light streaming from the window separating them. And while the very nature of this show must contain a lot of night scenes and darkness, some were very often difficult to see because of that darkness.
Everything else, from characters to storyline, bares little or no resemblance to Bram Stoker’s original novel. Jonathan is a journalist instead of a legal clerk. Mina, contrary to Victorian social conventions, is a medical student. Lucy, as has been portrayed in every Dracula adaptation from here to eternity, is an incorrigible and indiscriminate flirt. Van Helsing is still a brilliant doctor, but has somehow joined leagues with Dracula instead of against him. Renfield is neither a properties lawyer nor hilariously insane. And Mina is Dracula’s lost love reincarnated, because that’s never been done before. It is all a little tedious, as if someone thought that the characters needed to be made more interesting. And it doesn’t help, because even the decadent party and vampiric killings were really quite dull. With all the effort put into the production design, the show stimulates the senses but doesn’t do much in the way of stimulating interest. Dracula is going to get back at the Order by making their business obsolete? Okay, creative. But who wants to watch those inevitable Board of Director meetings?
And for a period drama, everything beyond production design feels helplessly modern. Keep in mind this is supposed to be Victorian London. Mina is a medical student who seems to be fairly well accepted not only by her male professor and her male classmates, but by the rest of society as well. R.M. Renfield, Dracula’s personal assistant, is a black man who is not only in 19th century England, but was presumably with Dracula in 19th century America, and no comment is made on his race. Unmarried men and women are kissing in public – hardly acceptable – and women’s dresses are impossibly revealing in the cleavage department – hardly accurate. The manner, demographics, personal freedoms, and social liberties are all completely wrong for the time period. While that might not throw off someone less familiar with Victorian mores, it really makes it difficult for me to suspend my disbelief and fully engage in what is already a pretty dull and derivative show.