Luke Evans in Dracula Untold.
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What the historical inaccuracies in “Dracula Untold” tell us about the rise of Islamophobia

The vilification of Islam has reached such heights that when the Muslim Sultan Mehmet II is cast opposite history’s bloodiest psycho-tyrant, it’s Dracula who emerges as the tragic hero.

This week I saw Dracula Untold in Istanbul, with an Italian Turkologist who shares my enthusiasm for vampire movies. It was past 10pm when the credits rolled, and the audience was disgruntled. Outside, Istiklal Street was still booming. An armored police van drove passed us, weaving through indifferent crowds. “That film was very anti-Muslim,” said my friend. I’m the Muslim one in our relationship, but I was trying to shrug it off, because frankly what else is new?

I do love a good villain, and take some pride in that black-eyed madness the historical Turk is infamous for. So, far from having an objection to my forefathers being cast in a nefarious light, it actually took some effort to reign back the gleeful cackling every time Dominic Cooper’s Mehmet II came on screen. That said, my issue is one of historical accuracy, and contemporary significance.

Admittedly, Hollywood is no genius when it comes to accurate representation. If it’s not a larger-than-life action flick where America is saving the world from aliens, chances are they’ll get it all wrong. But why Turks? And why now, when all eyes are on Turkey, and the country teeters unwillingly on the frontline of impending war? In the current climate of global political tension and escalating Islamaphobia, what political statement does Dracula Untold make in pitting our vampire hero against the armies of Mehmet II?

The film’s generous use of the word “Turk” was interesting. To call an Ottoman a Turk is like calling a Roman an Italian. True, the Ottoman sultans were of Turkic origin. But the empire was much too big, much too ethnically diverse to be called Turkish.

In the Age of Enlightenment, “Turk”, “Moor” and “Mohammedan” were interchangeable terms which basically meant Muslim. When an Englishman adopted the Islamic faith (and records hint that there was an influx of “apostates” during the Jacobean period) he was said to have “turned Turk”. Europe wasn’t merely compromised by the economic and military might of the civilised Muslim world. It was compromised by the reality of Islam as a fast-spreading faith which bore alarming similarities to the Judeo-Christian revelation. It was appealing. Glamorised even, by wealthy, cultivated Muslim travelers hailing from exotic lands. The wide use of “Turk” then, was an attempt to tribalise the Islamic faith and associate it with foreign, potentially threatening powers, which were the common enemy.

I’ll fill you in on some more history. Vlad Dracul II of the house of Draculesti sought support from the Ottoman Sultan in his claim to the Wallachian throne. To put him on it, the Ottomans waged war with Dracul’s enemies. In return, Dracul willingly offered them not one, but two of his sons: Vlad Tepes Dracula and Radu cel Frumos – aka Radu the handsome.

While Vlad Tepes went on to become the progenitor of the vampire myth, his brother would remain loyal to the Sultan, and his childhood friend, Mehmet II. A skilled and celebrated general, Radu proved invaluable in the conquest of Istanbul. And when Vlad Tepes started wreaking carnage across the Balkans, Mehmet II dispatched Radu to quell his brother’s blood-thirst. Vlad’s insurrection was not dissimilar to the terror tactics of the so-called Islamic State. He killed indiscriminately: Men, women and children; Turks and Bulgarians; Muslims and sympathising Christians alike were put to the stake. He boasted of his cruelty to the horror of his foes and allies. And having been raised among Muslims, he had the advantage of disguise. During their guerilla attacks, his men were dressed in Ottoman uniforms. He talked Turkish, walked Turkish and burned villages to the ground.

The brothers battled long, but Radu was victorious. Vlad Tepes fled to Hungary, where he sought sanctuary with the Corvinus clan. But frankly they’d also had enough of his grizzly antics, so they imprisoned him on charges of treason. True story.

Fast forward to the 21st century. In Dracula Untold, Mehmet II seals his demands on Vlad with a bloody thumb-print, and the scene’s final shot is of the Sultan’s thumb on an imperial edict, alongside a stamp bearing the name of God in Arabic script. The Sultan’s cruelty then is the will of the Muslim god, who is out to get your children. Today, vilification of Islam has reached such heights, that even when the Sultan is cast opposite history’s bloodiest-psycho-tyrant, it’s Dracula who emerges as the tragic hero.

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We knew we’d become proper pop stars when we got a car like George Michael’s

“That was George Michael!” we both shouted. “And he was driving the car we want!”

One of the clichés about celebrity life is that all celebrities know each other. Back in the Eighties, when we were moderately famous, Ben and I did often bump into other famous people, and because of mutual recognition, there was a sort of acquaintance, if not friendship.

There was a random element to it, as well. Some celebrities you might never catch a glimpse of, while others seemed to pop up with an unexpected regularity.

In 1987, the car we drove was a 1970s Austin Princess, all leather seats and walnut dashboard. In many ways, it symbolised what people thought of as the basic qualities of our band: unassuming, a little bit quirky, a little bit vintage. We’d had it for a year or so, but Ben was running out of patience. It had a habit of letting us down at inconvenient moments – for instance, at the top of the long, steep climbs that you encounter when driving through Italy, which we had just recklessly done for a holiday. The car was such a novelty out there that it attracted crowds whenever we parked. They would gather round, nodding appreciatively, stroking the bonnet and murmuring, “Bella macchina . . .”

Having recently banked a couple of royalty cheques, Ben was thinking of a complete change of style – a rock’n’roll, grand-gesture kind of car.

“I wanna get an old Mercedes 300 SL,” he said to me.

“What’s one of those?”

“I’ll let you know next time we pass one,” he said.

We were driving through London in the Princess, and as we swung round into Sloane Square, Ben called out, “There’s one, look, coming up on the inside now!” I looked round at this vision of gleaming steel and chrome, gliding along effortlessly beside us, and at the same moment the driver glanced over towards our funny little car. We made eye contact, then the Merc roared away. It was George Michael.

“That was George Michael!” we both shouted. “And he was driving the car we want!”

We’d always had a soft spot for George, even though we seemed to inhabit opposite ends of the pop spectrum. He’d once been on a TV review show and said nice things about our first album, and I knew he had liked my solo single “Plain Sailing”. We’d done a miners’ benefit gig where Wham! had appeared, slightly out of place in their vests, tans and blond bouffants. There had been a bit of sneering because they’d mimed. But I remember thinking, “Good on you for even being here.” Their presence showed that being politically active, or even just caring, wasn’t the sole preserve of righteous indie groups.

A couple of weeks later, we were driving along again in the Princess, when who should pull up beside us in traffic? George again. He wound down his window, and so did we. He was charming and called across to say that, yes, he had recognised us the other day in Sloane Square. He went on to complain that BBC Radio 1 wouldn’t play his new single “because it was too crude”. “What’s it called?” asked Ben. “ ‘I Want Your Sex’!” he shouted, and roared away again, leaving us laughing.

We’d made up our minds by now, and so we went down to the showroom, flashed the cash, bought the pop-star car and spent the next few weeks driving our parents up and down the motorway with the roof off. It was amazing: even I had to admit that it was a thrill to be speeding along in such a machine.

A little time passed. We were happy with our glamorous new purchase, when one day we were driving down the M1 and, yes, you’ve guessed it, in the rear-view mirror Ben saw the familiar shape coming up behind. “Bloody hell, it’s George Michael again. I think he must be stalking us.”

George pulled out into the lane alongside and slowed down as he drew level with us. We wound down the windows. He gave the car a long look, up and down, smiled that smile and said, “That’s a bit more like it.” Then he sped away from us for the last time.

Cheers, George. You were friendly, and generous, and kind, and you were good at being a pop star.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge