Among the endless films based on Bram Stoker's iconic creature of the night, this BBC production, originally made for television in 1977, has over the years earned itself quite a considerable fan base. Gerald Savory's screenplay is one of the more faithful adaptations of Stoker's novel (if you haven't read the book, the plot closely resembles Coppola's film), with some minor departures from the text made to streamline the story - Mina and Lucy are now sisters; Arthur Holmwood, one of Lucy's suitors is combined into the character of Quincey Morris; and Dracula himself, is portrayed as an eternally youthful man, and not the aged vampire of the book.
Director Philip Saville brings a strong visual sense to the film, with some fine location work - crumbling castles, nocturnal graveyards, dark haunted woodlands, and the gloomy wind-swept coast of Whitby. Style wise the lacks the garish technicolor of Hammer, or the operatic bombast of the Coppola film, and bears more of a resemblance to Herzog's Nosferatu, both films rich in atmosphere. The film has few special effects shots, perhaps due to budget reasons, but the odd negative image effect strays in from time to time, adding a touch of weirdness to the proceedings.
Louis Jourdan plays Dracula with a quiet, understated power - charming, with impeccable manners and deeply sinister. His Dracula is refreshingly unpretentious, not simply some emissary from Hell, but rather a creature who needs to feed on the blood of humans to further his race. Impressive too is Frank Finlay as the courageous and strangely paternal Van Helsing, and Jack Shepherd as the twitchy and ill-tempered Renfield. Some of the minor players lack certainty, and Richard Barnes' Quincy is quite disastrous, his faltering Texan accent will remind you of the equally inept turn by Keanu Reeves in Coppola's film.
BBC's DVD (coded for R2 and R4) containing the full 152min film is completely barebones as one might suspect. It's a shame some liner notes could not be provided to shed some light on the production (which originally aired a few days before Christmas of '77). The image quality is good, if a little underwhelming. The transfer exhibits some noise not helped by a certain televisual blandness inherent in small screen productions of this vintage (think of BBC sci-fi series Blake's Seven, or the British serial Thriller for a visual reference). Still, the DVD comes highly recommended and for the best results see this one on a cold winter's night to generate the required thrills.