In 1991, the world was introduced to one of the most revered and widely recognised characters in cinematic history. Whilst Hannibal Lecter had already been portrayed five years earlier by Brian Cox in Manhunter, it is Anthony Hopkins’ mesmerizing, and Oscar winning, performance as the cannibalistic psychiatrist in Silence of the Lambs that is deservedly remembered.
Now, over thirty years after the release of the book that inspired it all, comes a new television series based on the events of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon. Of course, there’s a certain amount of apprehension when it comes to reimagining such an iconic figure, and so it is perhaps wise that the new TV series Hannibal focuses its attention not on Lecter, but instead on Will Graham, the FBI profiler who in Harris’ books, forms a unique bond with the good doctor.
Episode one (Aperitif) opens with the kind of grisly scene that is sure to become commonplace in this thirteen part series. Following a gruesome home invasion, Will Graham (played by Englishman Hugh Dancy) surveys the scene with the eye of a detached investigator. Able to relive the murders from the point of view of the killer, Graham’s ability to empathise with anyone, including murderers, is precisely why he is sought out by FBI agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) to investigate the disappearance of eight teenage girls.
Dancy is exceptionally well cast in this lead role, as his nervous, withdrawn yet absorbing presence brings great weight to the character. Graham’s vaguely explained personality disorder is convincingly drawn and despite the great lapses in its explanation, is incredibly believable, taking great care to implore sympathy without the negativity that can bring. Whilst the idea of a mentally unstable investigator prying into crime scenes may seen reminiscent of other series of the same type (Dexter fans should flock to Hannibal), Dancy brings a new energy to a recognisable role.
However, it is the titular character that audiences will be waiting to meet, and when it is revealed that the bodies of the missing girls are likely being used for an unappetising purpose, Hannibal is revealed in the shape of the quiet, menacing Mads Mikkelson. While most will know the Danish actor as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale (2006), Mikkelson’s outstanding performances in last year’s A Royal Affair and The Hunt immediately provide reassurance that Hannibal Lecter is in good hands. His introduction, eating what looks like gourmet food accompanied by classical musical, is disquietingly civilised; a trait that has always served to make Lecter all the more frightening. As Will and Dr. Lecter are brought together by Fishburne’s authoritative Crawford, a relationship begins to build between the two that can only lead to trouble, and with the two leads seemingly on top of their game in these roles, it is one that is immediately engrossing.
David Slade’s stylish and visually striking direction uses techniques such as time lapse photography and constructs surreal dream sequences to great effect, setting up a unique style for the series to follow. The only thing missing perhaps is dialogue, with the characters hinged heavily on performance rather than a witty script. Whilst this is no great fault, actors such as the understated and methodical Mikkelson deserve a script that fully allows them to explore.
Whilst the opening of the series is, as yet, unable to move out of the shadow of Lecter’s previous appearances, there is something interesting here. Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelson make for engrossing leads, and with the show not pulling any punches of the grisly nature of its subject, there may be a lot more to come from Hannibal.
Best Kill: The discovery of a teenager’s body mounted on antlers gives a sense of the gruesome nature of Hannibal. Its no joke that the message “viewer discretion is advised” appears so often.
Best Scene: Never has the question of what’s for breakfast been more loaded than when Hannibal brings Will his morning meal.