Jonathan Rhys Meyers injects fresh blood into ‘Dracula’

By Robert Rorke
NY Post, October 24, 2013

It takes some kind of moxie to step into a role previously played by Gary Oldman, Christopher Lee and, of all people, Leslie Nielsen — but Jonathan Rhys Meyers seems perfectly cast as the smallscreen Dracula in NBC’s new series.

The intense Irish actor, who made a sensational series debut on “The Tudors,” plays old Vlad the Impaler with an unsmiling, slow-burning vengeance. This Dracula has an axe to grind — or maybe a few limbs to sever and throats to rip open as he settles old scores and trolls in the shadows for new necks to bite.

The story, by Cole Haddon and Daniel Knauf, takes enough liberties with the 1897 Bram Stoker novel to send purists into stroke mode, but all the classic characters — Jonathan Harker, Lucy Westenra and Renfield among them — are here, even if their roles and relationships to Dracula have been modified.

Van Helsing, played at room temperature by German actor Thomas Kretschmann, is not a vampire hunter here, but a professor of medicine and Dracula’s ally against the Order of the Dragon, a real-life medieval chivalric order founded by Sigismund, King of Hungary.
The main story in this 10-episode series concerns Dracula’s war against the Order, which killed his wife and condemned him to a life of immortality.

In Friday’s premiere, Dracula arrives in Victorian London, presenting himself to society as Alexander Grayson, an American industrialist pushing electricity as the wave of the future in a world still largely lit by candlelight and torches. Referred to by one of the characters as a “man of mystery, without biography,” Grayson is a man with two faces — and two accents. In private, he speaks Received Pronunciation British and then effortless uses a slightly arch American sound for public appearances.

But “Dracula” would not live up to its true Gothic potential without its story of doomed romance. Enter Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), a medical school student who’s a dead ringer for Dracula’s late wife, Ilona. With her milky complexion and pre-Raphaelite chestnut hair, De Gouw has the kind of understated magnetism that would so naturally appeal to a sneak like Dracula. In the novel, Dracula drank liberally from Mina’s veins; here he can deal with a little delayed gratification while Van Helsing works on a serum that will allow him to withstand daylight. The old vampire can only pursue his fascination for Mina at night. And “Dracula” has plenty of scenes filmed at night or in dimly lit interiors whose opulence is only hinted at. The production — from the team that brought us “Downton Abbey” — makes a feast of the darkness, using it to enhance the atmosphere of creepy, bygone elegance.

As Dracula draws Mina into his vortex, culminating in a beautifully photographed dance in Episode 5, and begins to dismantle the Order of the Dragon — including a shocking gay subplot — it’s clear that this vampire is not to be messed with. Rhys Meyers already has his fans, but he’s likely to win over skeptics as this new “Dracula” makes a seduction out of death.

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