Documentary film review by: Brian Penn
Bram Stoker created the legend of Dracula in 1897 and set in train a phenomenon of popular culture. The classic tale has spawned over 200 film versions and countless documentaries and TV specials. This offering from Greg Chapman and Felicity Hawthorn is part travelogue and part history lesson as they enjoy some spectacular Eastern European scenery. Whilst Stoker’s masterpiece is the reference point, it’s the dividing line between truth and legend that lies at the heart of their journey. Who was Dracula and what was the inspiration for the castle so memorably portrayed in the story?
Their first stop is Bran Castle in Transylvania, the closest we get to Stoker’s description of Dracula’s fortress in the novel. As they explore its raw beauty passages from the book are recited with calm reverence. Stoker’s hero Jonathan Harker is quoted, but they soon conclude this isn’t the castle of Dracula as depicted in historical fact. The trail gradually leads them away from Bram Stoker’s tale to Vlad the Impaler, or as he was sometimes known Vlad Dracula, ruler of Wallachia in the 15th Century. So begins an odyssey across Romania as the couple grapple with truth, fiction and legend.
Greg and Felicity are charming tour guides with an engaging approach to the usually clichéd travel documentary. They highlight a region of Europe all too seldom explored although no further from the UK than Greece. There are no beaches or water sports to enjoy here; the intemperate climate will bring sunshine and snow in equal measure. But the viewer can readily appreciate the contrast with more traditional holiday locations. Despite the visually stunning and historically rich landscape the film's purpose is frequently defeated in its quest. They travel long distances to find an attraction either closed or out of bounds. The claim this is not a history documentary is also fanciful; particularly as it traces Eastern European legend which underpins the location’s unique selling point. But the film taught me something new and provides Romania with an attractive showcase, mission accomplished I would say?