Thursday, August 30, 2012

Has Dark Shadows outgrown Victoria Winters?

Warning: The following column contains spoilers for the 2012 DARK SHADOWS movie.

I've had the opportunity in recent weeks to revisit the early days of DARK SHADOWS. I've been writing about these episodes in the new DARK SHADOWS DIARY feature, and took a look at how Marilyn Ross handled these pre-Barnabas Collins stories in the line of paperback novels. It feels a little like going home, but in a way I've never really left.

None of us have. Because DARK SHADOWS won't let us.

Alexandra Moltke
I don't mean that in a romantic sense. It just seems like the entire concept of DARK SHADOWS can't escape the arrival of Victoria Winters at Collinwood, even when it's entirely unnecessary. Those early stories have created a number of problems for later interpretations of DARK SHADOWS, beginning with HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS in 1970, right up to this year's film by Tim Burton. With the exception of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, later interpretations of the original television series sought to "reboot" the story with the introduction of Barnabas Collins. The problem facing writers from the very beginning has been: What do you do with Victoria Winters?

Originally played by Alexandra Moltke, the Collinwood governess was the television show's heroine when the series launched in 1966. The mystery of her heritage, specifically her potential relationship to the Collins family, was the driving focus of the series ... until a certain vampire knocked on the front door of the mansion. Victoria later became the romantic foil for Barnabas Collins, but there was little doubt that she had been usurped as the central protagonist of DARK SHADOWS. When Moltke left the show, other actresses tried to fill her shoes, but it was too little, too late. Victoria Winters had become an obsolete concept and was written out of the series.

The show continued quite well without her, with the bulk of the romantic "heavy lifting" displaced to the shoulders of Kathryn Leigh Scott's "Maggie Evans." The two characters conceptually merged in the series when Evans was inexplicably made governess of Collinwood, with the two characters literally becoming one in the Tim Burton movie.

Joanna Going
The 1991 "revival" series also struggled to make use of Victoria Winters. The character, as played by Joanna Going, became a surrogate for the audience, a glorified tour guide for the world of Collinsport. She (again) became a romantic foil for Barnabas Collins, but the mystery of her relationship to the Collins family was dropped entirely. There was little for Victoria Winters to do in the series besides react to the events around her. It was a character with no goals, and was consequently lifeless. It's worth pointing out that the 1991 series was the first time Josette and Victoria became "spiritually" related, a plot point that emerged again in the 2012 film as the Maggie/Victoria/Josette knot became fully tied.

So, what's next for DARK SHADOWS? If the story is revived again it seems likely that it will be as a television series instead of a feature film. If the Tim Burton movie showed us anything, it's that DARK SHADOWS is simply too big to be contained to a two-hour movie. The story has to be about something more than Barnabas Collins being freed from his tomb. The residents of Collinsport are more than just prey for a vampire, and it's the richness of character that keeps audiences coming back to the original series as later interpretations are slowly forgotten.

But where does this leave Victoria Winters? As a character, she was the victim of natural selection when DARK SHADOWS evolved from a gothic romance into a funky brew of horror and science fiction. While its a source of constant disappointment to fans that the show's original mystery was never resolved, Dan Curtis figured out there was more to the show than Victoria Winters. Its most successful iteration, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, dropped the conceit entirely, and was better for it. Still, Curtis felt the need to revive it for the 1991 series, as did Tim Burton in 2012. Neither had any success making us care about Victoria.

The biggest problem with using Victoria Winters as your hero is it requires writers to combine two very different television shows into a single narrative. One story tells of the arrival of a governess to Collinwood in search of her lost family. The other is a horror story about a vampire let loose upon the world after 200 years of bondage. Neither have much in common besides setting, and Barnabas' romantic interests in a woman who might be a relative adds an icky layer of incest to the tale. But using Victoria Winters while dropping her backstory is also a pointless endeavor, because that backstory is the only thing that makes her interesting.

As a fan, I hope the next creative team to carry the torch for DARK SHADOWS figures out how to properly incorporate the character into a new story, or decides to abandon her entirely. I've got no interest in seeing yet another regurgitation of Victoria Winters In Name Only.

What are your thoughts on the subject?


Melissa said...

I saw Going’s Victoria as a continuation of the merged Vicky/Maggie from the later original series and House of. Yes, there was also a character NAMED “Maggie Evans” in 1991, but the name is really the only thing she shared with previous Maggies; she was basically a brand-new character with a recycled name.
I agree that 1991 Vicky didn’t have a goal like 1966 Vicky; she was more of a pawn in the game being played by the long-dead. I got the impression she had been somehow draw to Collinwood by Josette (of whom she may have been the reincarnation) to put right the unresolved issues of 1795. Of course, we don’t know what Curtis’s long game was. I remember there being an implication that Laura and Angelique had been merged into one character, which could mean that she had been steadily plaguing the family for generations like she did in the 2012 movie. That could have had something to do with Vicky being drawn there to stand in for Josette as Maggie did in the ‘60’s. But yeah, it did seem like she as there for other people’s purposes rather than her own.
”Barnabas' romantic interests in a woman who might be a relative adds an icky layer of incest to the tale.”
Well, the original series never really shied away from that sort of thing. Vicky wouldn’t have been a closer relation than Carolyn. Carolyn, who became involved with no fewer than three of her own distant relatives. Granted, she and Chris didn’t know they were related. But she dated Quentin, believing him to be as close a cousin as Chris actually was. (You know a man’s a player when he pretends to be his own great-grandson in order to birddog his great-grandniece away from his actual great-grandson.) And then there’s Roger unwittingly marrying his own grandmother. I remember a particularly apt Jonathan Frid line-flub when he described Eagle Hill as the place “where all my incestors are buried.”

Anonymous said...

I do think that when Dark Shadows returns, the Victoria character will indeed be dropped or drastically changed. I personally feel the drastically changed option with a new back story (possibly more closely tied to Barnabas himself) will be the way a new production team will go. And I feel that is indeed the direction Tim Burton and company were headed as well with how they gave Victoria a changed/altered past (Maggie Evans and her family sending her away).

Ash said...

I suppose I'm the only person who actually cared about Joanna Going's Victoria then? That's pretty much what this article implies. Personally, I feel that many DS "fans" cannot look past the revival aspect. This 1991 series was also Dan's vision. That, unfortunately, cannot be said about Tim Burton's failure. Joanna actually had brains compared to what they stubbornly wrote original series Vicki into. Victoria and Josette in the revival is great. I'd rather Joanna's Josette than KLS to be honest. At least she had some backbone in the 91 series. Both of her characters did.

I think that it's just bias that people have for the original. Then again, I see a lot of them actually enjoyed the Burton film. Honestly, I don't get it since that's not Curtis' vision but that's their opinion.

Frankly, Dark Shadows needs Victoria. Without her it makes no sense to me. Joanna is a better actress than most of the original series girls anyway. Alexandra was great in the beginning but they turned her into a simpering "I don't understand" robot before dumping her. No wonder Alexandra tired of playing the watered down governess. She wanted to return as a villain with more gumption. Sadly, they didn't let her. I suppose I'm one of those DS fans who doesn't need Barnabas to be happy. I don't need Barnabas in either version. One thing I do not like about 91 is Ben Cross. Joanna still overshadows him for me, so I can live with it.

Cousin Barnabas said...

It wasn't Joanna Going that I had a problem with ... it was the writing.

And I agree: Going is the superior Josette.

Ash said...

Thanks for replying Cousin Barnabas.

I think you broach a lot of meaningful points in your posts here and it gets the debate core revved. This is a blog I enjoy, so thank you for maintaining it.

Cousin Barnabas said...

When Wyatt Earp came out back in 1994, I was actually more excited that Joanna Going was in it than I was about Kevin Costner :)

Ash said...

She is one of my favorite actresses hands down. I really enjoyed her in that but most of the stuff I've seen with her she adds warmth to.

Man, we DS fans are passionate I'll tell you that. Back on topic for the article, I'm not entirely sure if there will be another incarnation of DS. If they did in some way I'm not sure what they'd do with Victoria Winters.

Have you had a chance to see the 2004 pilot for the short lived WB adaptation? Marley Shelton took on the role. While I like her as an actress, I personally thought that was a bad miscast.

Melissa said...

It's true that ingenues in general have gone out of fashion.

Anonymous said...

BIG FINISH should really explore Victoria in a future audio (If they could get Alexandra to reprise the role) - are we really to believe she(Spoiler)in the past? Doesn't her story deserve a proper wrap up?

George Caltsoudas said...

For me, it always felt like the governess story should be dropped and the heroine should be Maggie Evans but with the name Victoria Winters and the grace of Alexandra (Sorry Katherine Leigh Scott) with the father who is a painter OR she herself is an orphan who is a painter in her spare time when she's not waiting table at the Blue Whale Pub.

That way you streamline it so that you only have ONE person arriving into this world and at Collinwood - BARNABAS. And his romantic connection to Victoria (Maggie) is what bridges the gap between the rich class and working class i.e. the Collins family and the townspeople.

I think the other main problem is that in all new interpretations, Angelique always gets shoved into the world too quickly as the ultimate Joker-type villain (and I too made that mistake with my own planned adaptation) and this just clutters things up too much. I think the 2012 movie made this problem crystal clear as all the other interesting characters end up taking a back seat to this weirdo roller coaster sexy freaky romance between Barnabas and Angie - a character who seems to not connect with audiences when made too evil whereas Lara Parker really nailed it with the more balanced approach between being betrayed and being vindictive.

Zahir Blue said...

I am one of those who views the Burton film as having done something marvelous and compelling with the whole idea of Victoria Winters, diving if anything deeper into the whole character concept than ever before. She was always a mystery, always someone who felt out of touch with the world. "Victoria Winters" itself is such an obvious alias, chosen because of the face she was found abandoned in wintertime. Without a past, searching for an anchor, finding it in Barnabas.

On the other hand, one of the things I adored about the original series was that Vicki was *never* Josette reincarnated. She was herself, and in his attraction to her--the real person rather than the recreation of a long-gone Josette--that Barnabas began finding his humanity once more. That is what seems missing in all the other, later versions of DS (of which I count ten so far--original series, Gold Key comics, Ross novels, first two movies, 91 revival, Innovation Comics, Off Off Broadway play, Big Finish, WB Pilot and now the 2012 flick).

Seems to me several options await. One is to give Victoria a specific past and her own story, intertwining that with the other characters. Another is to make her far more ambiguous, so that everything about her seems a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. Still another is to make her in some sense the villain of the piece, or at least to contain a darkness that threatens as well as attracts.

Brian said...

I loved Going as Victoria, and felt she worked well but I do agree something was missing without her search for her family.
I do agree that putting Maggie in the lead ingenue role does serve an interesting role in the class system of Collinsport, the working class work working in the mansion.
I'd like to see any new adaptation either use Vicki in a role closer to her original role. I don't see why a modern audiance wouldn't embrace the story of the orphan searching for her family, they just need to resolve the plot. Or else move Maggie into the ingenue role.

darkvisions2013 said...

For God's sake!
The girl on the train,going to Collinsport to be a Governess is "THE TURN OF THE SCREW" and the inspiration for Curtis to create a series in the first place.
She shouldn't be a relative and her experiences with ghosts make her the ONLY adult to see what David sees.
Once she travels to the past, she becomes THE smartest person on the show.
She comes to believe in witchcraft but has trouble handling the possibility of the existence of vampires...especially when someone as caring and courtly as Barnabas becomes a suspect.
But, that all changed when Tom Jennings appeared in her bedroom baring his fangs!
It IS a shame Alexandra couldn't enact that major turning point for Victoria.
As a matter-of-fact, Victoria develops amnesia in the 91 version but was due to start remembering later.
The plan was for her to try to help Julia affect a cure for Barnabas and assist
Barnabas in his battle with Angelique, who has re-appeared as David's mother, Laura.
It's during all of this that Angelque fails in her attempt to destroy David, the last Collins, only to have him become possessed by the ghost of one "Quentin Collins"...making Victoria Winters one very busy "ingeniue".

Chad Moore said...

Victoria Winters was in no way obsolete when she was written out of the original show. The reason she was written out is because the recast was poor and not accepted by the audience. Alexandra Moltke declined to return, so Maggie pretty much became the new Vicki. "Dark Shadows" was never the same without Vicki. In essence, she was the heart of the show; the touchstone for viewers.

Anonymous said...

Darkvision, I've never heard anything about the plans for what was next for the Revival Series. This all sounds interesting. Do you know anywhere to look for more information on what the plans were next?

Unknown said...

I always thought that Vicky was the love child of Barnabas and Angelique. That twist would have kept the writers busy and introduced some interesting moments.

Unknown said...

Let me expand on that.
As far as the classic TV series iteration of Victoria Winters goes,

Angelique would have a stronger motivation of love/hate for Barnabas.
Angelique framing Victoria for witchcraft adds a layer of irony to the story.
It explains Victorias interest/disinterest in Barnabas romantically.
The incest ick factor adds to the horror.

To me, it seems like a missed opportunity to tie the stories together and add some depth and complexity to them.
Que the music...........

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