I recently had the opportunity to watch the 1979 adaptation of Dracula starring Frank Langella. I think this is the first time I’d seen the film since I was about thirteen or fourteen. I particularly enjoyed Langella’s portrayal of Dracula as a tortured nobleman and I loved seeing Sylvester McCoy, famous for playing the title role in Doctor Who. However, what interested me most was the way they shuffled around Bram Stoker’s familiar characters and plot.
In this movie, Lucy is the daughter of Dr. Seward, who runs a sanatorium in Whitby, England. She’s being courted by Jonathan Harker. Her best friend, Mina, is Dr. Van Helsing’s daughter. In the novel, Lucy is engaged to Dr. Seward and becomes the vampire’s first victim. Mina is engaged to Jonathan, but becomes the vampire’s primary love interest. That gets turned around in the movie. Mina is the first victim and Lucy is the one the Count seriously pursues.
Shifting characters around in productions of Dracula is nothing new. In fact, there are very few productions that remain true to the characters of the novel, but the shifting character roles do provide an interesting insight into the story. In the novel, Dracula seduces Mina and Lucy away from those they intend to marry, essentially making the final confrontation one of jealous lovers. In the 1979 movie, the conflict is more between Dracula and the fathers. The forbidden romance is less adulterous and more one with the bad boy the dads don’t like. However, it does serve to make Van Helsing’s need to destroy his own vampiric daughter much more poignant and sad.
One of the things that makes Stoker’s novel particularly interesting is the interplay of romance and the supernatural. Issues of madness, sanity, science and superstition are all explored. The 1979 movie focused more on a fairly simple romance story. Other movies have focused on the horror or the supernatural. It all speaks to the strength of the novel that these different aspects can be highlighted and work as standalone tales.