What A Bray Day!
SFX|Holiday Special 2019
FIRST THEY UPDATED SHERLOCK HOLMES. NOW THEY’RE GIVING DRACULA A TRANSFUSION OF NEW BLOOD. STEVEN MOFFAT AND MARK GATISS TELL US HOW, AS WE VISIT THE BRAY STUDIOS SET.
Ian Berriman

ON OCCASION, SFX GETS TO walk in the footsteps of legends. This time, it’s one that casts no shadow.

A sign we spied turning off the road gave us our first shiver down the spine: shaped like a clapperboard, it bore the legend “Bray Studios”. The site has seen better days. Decaying outbuildings and corrugated sheds around the perimeter – which we imagine formerly housing costume designers and make-up artists beavering away on cloaks and fangs – are in such shabby condition that they’ve been fenced off. Down Place, the grand house next door (once home to offices and screening rooms), now stands derelict – paint flaking, masonry crumbling, a window boarded up with some old doors. But this place still retains an aura of greatness, because for 14 years it was the home of Hammer. Gothic classics like Dracula, The Curse Of Frankenstein and The Mummy were filmed here. Rounding a corner, it’s easy to picture Christopher Lee magisterially sweeping past, cloak billowing in his wake.

Closed for several years, its soundstages are now back in business, and after reopening their doors for Elton John biopic Rocketman they have welcomed home Bram Stoker’s bloodsucker for a new three-part adaptation of Dracula for the BBC. It’s the brainchild of Sherlock creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. The latter is clearly just as thrilled to be here as we are.

“It’s amazing to think it’s the same soundstages,” the writer – who’ll also appear in the series, though he’s keeping mum on his role – tells SFX. “The battlements of the old house are where Christopher Lee falls to his death in The Curse Of Frankenstein. We also shot a little in Oakley Court, the hotel over the road, where they did The Plague Of The Zombies. The Jack Palance Bram Stoker’s Dracula was shot there too. It’s also the house from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Catherine Schell, who’s in episode two, did Space: 1999 here. I can go on!”

Don’t read too much into the decision to shoot here, though: this isn’t some kind of nostalgic Hammer revival. Indeed, Bray wasn’t actually the first choice. “We were lined up for somewhere else,” Moffat explains. “It’s a total coincidence,” Gatiss adds.

And don’t assume that this production will see the duo applying their Sherlock modus operandi either, by bringing the Count into the modern-day. “There’s too much fun to be had with the iconography of the cloak and the castle and all that,” Moffat says. “You wouldn’t want to.”

PLAYING YOUR STOKER

So how will they be tackling Stoker’s iconic character? There is no shortage of models to follow: as Moffat notes, after Sherlock Holmes, Dracula is the second most-filmed character of all time (“We’re working our way down the list. Tarzan next!” Gatiss jokes). Will they be remaining faithful to Bram Stoker’s 1897 epistolary novel? Or taking their own path? A little of both.

“In a very Sherlock-y way, it’s faithful and faithless at the same time,” Gatiss explains. “It is often quite faithful – and then also not. You can see that we love it, and very much love and respect all kinds of different versions. But if you’re going to do something with it, you have to enjoy that and then say, ‘Right, here’s our version.’”

Mind you, if the two did religiously follow the novel, they’d produce something most viewers would most likely find a bit off. For starters, the Count would have to match Stoker’s description: an old man with white hair, a long white mustache, and a bushy monobrow. He’d also have no problem getting a tan…

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