“Dracula,” the latest version of vampires on TV has taken things old school—all the way back to Vlad the Impaler. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays Vlad who, after being cursed by a shady group of priests, is reawakened by Abraham Van Helsing in Victorian London. Van Helsing, the legendary vampire hunter, has a plan to destroy a secret order of vampire hunters made up of London’s rich and powerful who he blames for the death of his family. In the spirit of self-preservation, Vlad cooperates. Hiding in plain sight, he reinvents himself as American entrepreneur Alexander Grayson. He wants two things: To light up the night with electricity and to take down the order. Then he meets a woman who seems to be the reincarnation of his long dead wife Mina. It’s romance, revenge and um…science.
Turning an iconic character into an ambitious businessman (he seems to be inventing wireless light bulbs at one point) out for blood (literally) is a very modern take on Bram Stoker’s story that at first, feels a little odd. But if you can get past the idea of Dracula as a corporate raider, the choice works. It wouldn’t be very original to have him simply hunt and kill everyone. So, Grayson sets out to destroy the very wealthy men of the secret order in the only way that really matters. He ruins them financially which for some, has devastating consequences on their personal lives.
But “Dracula” doesn’t get too carried away with its twisty interpretation. There’s plenty of blood, fangs, sex and killing of random, hapless victims in the streets of 19th century London. Rhys-Meyers makes Grayson dangerous but alluring and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to seduction, which is the cornerstone of any successful vampire story. In fact, he’s good enough that I can forgive him for his questionable American accent.
At the heart of the story is Grayson’s desire for the beautiful Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), who he believes is his dead wife come back to him. Mina is modern and charming and engaged to Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who Grayson has employed in order to keep Mina in his life. Their scenes allow Rhys-Meyer’s to be at his smoldering best.
I think the most entertaining vampire stories find a balance between monster and man so that you root for the man even while cringing from the monster. “Dracula” does this thanks to Rhys-Meyers but it also owes a lot to Nonso Anozie who plays Renfield. A mental patient in Stoker’s story, he is here cast as Grayson’s right-hand man. On one level, Renfield is a symbol of Grayson’s liberal outsider status but he is also comic relief and confidant. He gives Dracula just enough humanity to make you like him.
“Dracula” is on Fridays at 10 p.m. EDT on NBC.