Count Dracula (1977 film)
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Louis Jourdan as Count Dracula
|Directed by||Philip Saville|
|Produced by||Morris Barry|
|Written by||Gerald Savory|
|Music by||Kenyon Emrys-Roberts|
|Edited by||Richard Bedford|
Count Dracula is a British television adaptation of the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. Produced by the BBC, it first aired on BBC 2 on 22 December 1977. It is among the more faithful of the many adaptations of the original book. Directed by Philip Saville, it starred Louis Jourdan as Count Dracula and Frank Finlay as Van Helsing.
Lucy Westenra's sister Mina bids farewell to her fiancé Jonathan Harker, who is leaving for a business trip. Harker, a solicitor, is travelling to Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania to expedite his purchase of Carfax Abbey and other properties in England.
At the door of the castle, Count Dracula himself welcomes Jonathan. Abandoned by superstitious locals, Harker was forced to accept a lift there from an anonymous passing coachman. Jonathan agrees to stay for a month to help the Count with his English. Dracula is urbane and gracious, but also vaguely sinister, and casts no reflection. After a series of disturbing events, Harker explores the castle, finds the Count asleep in a coffin, and tries (ineffectually) to kill him with a shovel.
In England, Mina and Lucy go to the seaside town of Whitby. Among their friends are Quincey Holmwood (Lucy's American fiancé), and Dr. John Seward, who owns a local asylum. Among Seward's patients is the madman Renfield, who worships and fears Dracula. Mina and Lucy witness a storm in which the foreign ship 'Demeter' goes aground, and later a local is found dead. Mina follows a sleepwalking Lucy to the local graveyard and glimpses Dracula holding her in his arms. Lucy thereafter grows pale and weak; at night in her bedroom, Dracula drinks her blood. Jonathan meanwhile turns up delirious and weak in a convent in Budapest.
Seward calls on his friend Abraham Van Helsing for help with Lucy's strange illness. Although Van Helsing recognizes the symptoms and protects her bedroom with garlic, a wolf shatters the room's window; the shock kills Lucy's mother, and Lucy is found pale and nearly dead.
Seward and Holmwood both accompany Van Helsing to Lucy's grave. A bloodied Lucy approaches, and attempts to entice Holmwood, but is forced to flee from Van Helsing's crucifix. Later in the tomb, Holmwood drives a wooden stake into Lucy's heart. Van Helsing fills her mouth with garlic and cuts off her head.
Harker, Van Helsing, Seward, and Holmwood all go to Carfax Abbey to sterilize Dracula's refuges - boxes of native earth - with Christian artefacts. Renfield realizes Dracula is now visiting Mina, and seeks to warn her and Dr. Seward. In revenge, Dracula kills Renfield, who just manages to warn the others. They rush to find Mina in her bedroom, drinking blood from Dracula's chest. Dracula vanishes as they enter. Van Helsing touches and sears the hysterical Mina's forehead with a piece of communion wafer, which scars her until Dracula dies.
The Count flees back to his castle, and they follow; Van Helsing and Mina go to the Castle, while the others follow the Gypsies transporting Dracula's coffin. In the Transylvanian wilderness, Dracula's brides attack Van Helsing and Mina, but Van Helsing thwarts them, and destroys them the following day. Harker, Seward and Holmwood chase Dracula's carriage and fight the Gypsies loyal to Dracula; Mina shoots one, saving Harker. The pursuers reach and open the coffin; inside, Dracula smiles, because it is almost sunset, but Van Helsing drives a stake into the vampire's heart, and the body disintegrates, leaving only his clothes and ashes.
- Louis Jourdan as Count Dracula
- Frank Finlay as Abraham Van Helsing
- Susan Penhaligon as Lucy Westenra
- Judi Bowker as Mina Westenra
- Jack Shepherd as Renfield
- Mark Burns as Dr. John Seward
- Bosco Hogan as Jonathan Harker
- Richard Barnes as Quincey P. Holmwood
The film was originally shown on BBC 2 in the UK in its entirety (155 minutes) on 22 December 1977. It was repeated twice in 1979, the first time on BBC 2 in January and again on BBC 1 in December. On both of these occasions it was split into three episodes and shown on three consecutive nights. It was repeated again on BBC 2 in April 1993 when it was shown in two parts.
Critical reaction to the film has been mostly positive. Writing in The Guardian, TV critic Nancy Banks-Smith stated it was "A nice plushy production with much galloping off in all directions and sulphurous smoke effects, a pleasant sensation of space and time and money. Something of a hole in the middle though, like a vampire after remedial treatment." She was less positive about the casting and performance of Louis Jourdan, however, which she felt "...emphasised the lover at the expense of the demon. It makes a change. Though, I would say, for the worst."
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV said that "Count Dracula remains one of the best-ever adaptations of Bram Stoker's novel" despite a "couple of missteps", remarking that "the cast is excellent", in particular praising the performances of Frank Finlay and Louis Jourdan, whom he calls "especially good." Critic Steve Calvert agreed that Count Dracula was "one of the better versions" of Stoker's novel, calling it "perhaps even the best." He felt that "few actors have ever played the role [of Van Helsing as] convincingly" as Frank Finlay, that "without doubt, [Jack Shepherd is] the best on-screen embodiment there has ever been of the fly-munching Renfield", and remarked of Jourdan's performance, "[His] Dracula ... exudes a quieter kind of evil. A calculating, educated evil with a confidence and purpose all of its own."
In his book Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, David J. Skal calls Count Dracula "the most careful adaptation of the novel to date, and the most successful." Brett Cullum of DVD Verdict said the special effects were the film's "biggest downfall" and that it was "perhaps the least visually interesting" Dracula adaptation, though he offered a mostly positive review, remarking that there is "plenty to admire in the production", in particular the "sublime acting". MaryAnn Johanson of FlickFilosopher.com was less positive, writing: "Maybe it had more of an impact in the 70s ... but today, while it remains a stylishly surreal reinterpretation of Bram Stoker’s novel, there’s something a bit dated and stodgy about it."
Count Dracula was released to DVD by BBC Video in 2007.
- British Film Institute ("Count Dracula")
- BBC ("Count Dracula" episode listings, April 1993)
- Nancy Banks-Smith (23 December 1977). "Television: Dracula". The Guardian.
- Count Dracula : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video
- DVD Review: Count Dracula (1977)
- Skal, David J. (2004). Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen. Paperback ed. New York: Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-21158-5 - page 275
- DVD Verdict Review - Count Dracula: BBC Mini-Series
- FlickFilosopher.com: Count Dracula (review)