Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Honourable Mentions: Dracula – the Dark Prince

The historical figure Vlad Drăculea had no connection to vampirism until Bram Stoker took his name for the lead villain in his novel and made vague reference that could be read that his Dracula might be the Wallachian Prince by including very limited biographical detail taken from two paragraphs of a source research book. Until that time Drăculea was, and still is, considered by his native people as a National Hero.

Be that as it may, Stoker did make the initial connection and several film makers and novelists have considerably strengthened the ties, most notably in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Despite the DVD cover, this film is a biopic of Drăculea and I would have given this an honourable mention simply for the impact that the historical figure has had on the genre generally.

I should warn you, however, that as a biopic this film fails on two levels.

Firstly whilst some of the recorded (and alleged) historical events are portrayed in the movie, the film seriously changes history. Let us count the ways. Vlad (Rudolf Martin, who played Dracula in a Buffy episode in the same year) is portrayed as a Transylvanian. It was Stoker who set his book in Transylvania, Vlad was a Wallachian Prince. The film shows that he has a brother called Radu the Handsome (Michael Sutton) who was loyal to the Turks. True, but he also had an older brother, named Mircea who fails to be mentioned in the film.

The film shows Vlad and Radu being captured by the Sultan Mohammed (Claudia Trandafir) and kept as hostage to force compliancy from his father Vlad II (Dan Bordeianu), who was trying to unite Romania against the Ottoman Empire. Actually Vlad II volunteered to be a vassal of the Sultan and handed his two youngest sons over as hostage, betraying his vow to the Order of the Dragon.

Vlad’s father is shown to be assassinated by being buried alive, in reality he was killed in the marshes near Bălteni and it was Vlad’s brother Mircea who was blinded with hot iron stakes and then buried alive. At this point in the film Vlad is imprisoned by the Turks and then mysteriously released – later in the film Radu claims he had his brother freed. Vlad, who has sworn to avenge his father, then petitions King Janos (Roger Daltrey) for aid to take Transylvania back and does so by force, he rules twice (though the second time seems to be for a matter of hours).

In reality he ruled in Wallachia three times. The Sultan placed him on the throne the first time as a puppet ruler for the Ottoman Empire. It is doubtful that he ever swore to avenge his father’s assassination as he hated him for sending him to be a hostage. He lost the throne the first time because the King of Hungary, who at the time was John Hunyadi, removed him. Hunyadi would then give him aid to take the throne back after his Uncle Bogdan II (who Hunyadi had placed on the throne) was assassinated. Hunyadi died soon after and was replaced by Michael Corvinus.

Rather than defend Transylvania, Vlad actively raided the land. In the film his first wife Lidia (Jane March) kills herself because she is mad and hearing the voices of those Vlad has killed. In reality his first, unnamed, wife killed herself in the manner described because she feared capture by the Turks. It also shows that he had a son named Vlad but historically his son was called Mihnea cel Rău.

In the film Radu takes the throne and, with the help of Vlad’s father-in-law Aron (Razvan Vasilescu), forges documents that turn Janos against Vlad, who then has him imprisoned. In reality Vlad was imprisoned by Corvinus, but this was because Radu made a treaty with the Hungarian. The film has Vlad try to retake his throne from Radu but in reality Radu was already dead and Vlad retook Wallachia from Basarab the Elder. Thus the film’s idea that Radu kills him, Vlad having been betrayed by the orthodox church, personified in Father Stefan (Peter Weller), is complete fabrication but leads to the film’s biggest historical and legend faux pas and the second way the film fails.

In the film there are supernatural overtones. It is said that Vlad’s birth was marked by a relief of the virgin crying blood and this identified him as the anti-Christ. The film is based around him being questioned by the Orthodox Church, who then excommunicates him because he converted to Catholicism. It is true that he converted but I have not seen evidence that the Orthodox Church excommunicated him. Because of this, however, he can neither enter Heaven or Hell (conveniently forgetting the fact that the Vatican didn’t excommunicate him) and indicates that because of this he returns as an immortal –
the obvious hint (though it is not directly said) being that he is a vampire.

So, a wildly historically inaccurate biopic – indeed it is so inaccurate one should drop the word biopic. Hints of vampirism, which should not be there, abound and yet it is strangely engaging as a film though a little heavy on wobbly cameras during the combat scenes.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

It is highly unlikely that an Orthodox church would excomunicate a Catholic, since all followers of the Pope are, by definition, excommunicated by the Ortodox churches, and vice versa. If that makes you a vampire, than there would be a whole lot of vampires.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

anon - as I said, I have seen no evidence of excommunication and the whole film is wildly historically inaccurate...

However folklore did tie excommunication and vampirism. From the vampire encyclopedia, heading Excommunication, iro the orthodox church "some doctrines... ...held that a corpse would remain incorrupt until absolution was given, a concept that had a major role in the dissemination ov vampire stories..."

The entry goes on to point out that incorruptability could indicate sainthood in Catholic doctrine.

However, in this case - as wildly inaccurate as the film is - it was not a simple fact of automatically excommunicated for being a different faith (by rote) but actively excommunicated for abandoning one church for another...

you are right in that the by rote excommunication would, logically, lead to a lot of vampires... It would also raise the question of which Church is right or wrong (as one of them in that case must be right and the other wrong)... As I am not a christian (though I was brought up nominally CofE and then was moved to RC) its a debate I'd want to duck out of as soon as it began (if you know what I mean).

but then vampries aren't real anyway ;)