Bram Stoker's Dracula


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Coppola's aesthetic is all about excess and lacks the self awareness that let Hammer Horror films get away with this."

Usually when an author's name is inserted before the title of a film, it can be taken as a warning. With this film (and its curious counterpart, Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein), the picture is a little different, as these iconic characters have been reinvented so many times that many viewers will expect something different, and may not even be familiar with the originals. Still, it's a curious choice in this case when the story, though it roughly follows the outline of the book, reworks its themes quite drastically.

Gary Oldman is the famous Count, in the first major screen role which required him to do more than play a version of himself, and before he'd acquired the skill to play other people. His Dracula, at times presented as an old man and at times as a 'young' one revivified by blood, is, in either guise, constructed from pure ham. As he is up against a similarly hammy Anthony Hopkins, however, this works better than one might expect, even if he never quite attains the creepiness of the latter's Van Helsing. Here, rather than being a simple predator, the Count is recast as a tragic romantic anti-hero, obsessed with Winona Ryder's petulant Mina Murray whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his lost love. It's somewhat uncomfortable to watch a key scene of thinly veiled sexual assault played out as a romantic encounter, but the new story seems to appeal well enough to those unfamiliar with the original, and Ryder twirling around in a big red dress like a precursor of Moulin Rouge's dying courtesan provides the film with some iconic images.

Copy picture

The idea here, apparently, was to use red as a coded colour only glimpsed in moments of passion (as Adrian Lyne did so effectively in Fatal Attraction) but the fiilm completely overdoes it. There's some really strong set design work and excellent costuming for the astute viewer to spot but its impact is smothered under the weight of the antique velvet and twee gothic trappings that saturate the film. Coppola's aesthetic is all about excess and lacks the self awareness that let Hammer Horror films get away with this. These factors extend to its treatment of its female characters, as the ability to address sexuality more directly than was the case in Stoker's time manifests in a demonisation of female desire that is positively Medieval.

It's shame to see such a mess made of a project with such a capable cast. Tom Waits is the highlight, having nabbed the plum role of Renfield, Dracula's groupie, and his unhinged antics see him steal every scene he's in. Sadie Frost does her best to bring some personality to the pornographically delineated character of Lucy; Cary Elwes blends into the scenery as Arthur; and as for Keanu Reeves (playing Jonathan, Mina's sweetheart), well, one could break off any part of him, stab the Count with it, and the story would be over.

Having said all this, the film rattles along at a fair old pace and is certainly energetic. Fans of cheesy melodramas may well find it entertaining - just don't expect too much.

Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2013
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Bram Stoker's Dracula packshot
A loose adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, with the vampire Count seeking the reincarnation of his lost love.
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Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Writer: James V Hart, based on the book by Bram Stoker.

Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Sadie Frost, Keanu Reeves, Tom Waits, Richard E Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Monica Bellucci

Year: 1992

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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