There’s always going to be a problem when trying to tell the beginning of a story to which the audience already knows the end. Thomas Harris’s 1981 novel Red Dragon chronicled the later part of Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s relationship with FBI profiler Will Graham & has been adapted for cinema twice; in Michael Mann’s excellent 1986 film Manhunter and in the pointless, poorly executed 2002 remake Red Dragon. The story of how Graham managed to catch Hannibal the Cannibal, however, is yet to be told. The tone is dark, the pace is frantic and the show is bolstered by strong performances from an able cast. Still, there’s something missing; ironically, given the show’s central character, Hannibal is never meaty enough, unable to build on the tension its pace warrants.
Renowned psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter and Special FBI agent Will Graham first meet when the stress of hunting a particular serial killer becomes too much for Graham; he has a habit for becoming too involved in the murders he is investigating and a talent for recreating crime scenes in his head using the available evidence. As their relationship develops, it becomes clear that Hannibal may hold the key to helping Graham distance himself from his work. However, it may also mean that Graham will get too close to discovering Lecter’s secret source to the meat he uses is the vast amount of culinary treats he creates.
Stepping in to shoes already made big by both Brain Cox & Anthony Hopkins (forget Gaspard Ulliel), Mads Mikkelsen holds his own as the titular psychiatrist/psychopath. This Lecter is very similar to the caged killer we know from Manhunter/The Silence of the Lambs but with a much more flattering wardrobe. Mikkelsen is clearly having a lot of fun in the role and his restrained charisma is unremittingly infectious; especially as Hannibal the gourmet who amusingly has both Rolodex for his recipes & his victims. The problem is that we are never given enough time to really get to know Hannibal; his psyche explored in brief interactions with his own psychiatrist (Gillian Anderson, wonderful as always). These meetings are few and far-between at times, the story too permanently focused on Graham and the FBI and it seems a pity that there isn’t more time dedicated to really exploring Hannibal’s character.
If it feels like you don’t spend enough time with Dr. Lecter, then it feels like you spend too much time with Will Graham. Hugh Dancy’s performance cannot be faulted; he carries the show effortlessly and builds Graham in to a trustworthy yet unstable protagonist. When on the screen together, the relationship between Lecter & Graham crackles as it develops and seeing how reliant Graham becomes of Lecter’s makes for interesting telly; especially the way Hannibal seems to form a bond with the man who has the prospect of exposing him.
The problem lies in the shows overreliance of putting Graham in to adverse situations for the purposes of building tension; it never works and creates a hole in the show that’s hard to fill. The problem is in the audiences (admittedly assumed) knowledge of the Harris novels and Lecter films, which reveal that Graham does eventually capture Lecter and indeed uses his mind to help catch other killers. There’s never a real sense of jeopardy for Graham, which really affects the season’s underwhelming cliffhanger.
Nonetheless, there’s still enough to make Hannibal more of a success on the screen than it likely sounded on paper. The gore may be too much for some to handle but, despite some criticism from journalists and the public, it’s no worse than you would find on CSI; the same of which can be said of Laurence Fishburne, always playing it overly emotional as Jack Crawford.
A surprise hit with critics and audiences, both here and in the States, Hannibal has already be renewed for a second season in 2014. Developer Bryan Fuller says he has drawn a seven-season arc for the show, which will eventually give Lecter’s story a conclusion after the events of Harris’s novels. By that reckoning we should be due for something truly immersive in 2019; until then bask in the fantastic lead performances and in finding out what/who Hannibal will be having for dinner in the evening… you’re likely to have more fun than you’d think.
Hannibal Season 1 is now available to buy on DVD & Blu-Ray