We were worried when we heard that a TV series was being made about the early years of Hannibal Lecter, especially as we’d paid to see Hannibal Rising in 2007.
But each successive announcement was more and more exciting, as Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller cast Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford and the fantastic Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter.
This update finds brilliant serial killer profiler Will Graham in the years before Red Dragon; teaching at the academy because he’s not stable enough for field work. Will’s expertise is required to catch the Minnesota Shrike, so Jack Crawford asks Dr Hannibal Lecter to treat Will. Hannibal recognises a kindred spirit in his new patient and a friendship begins that will tear Will’s psyche to shreds.
Fuller describes the show as “elegant horror” and that mission statement is adhered to throughout the series. The imagery is as nightmarish as it is outlandish: human mushroom beds, skin flayed into angel wings, a totem pole made of corpses.
The grotesquerie is beautifully shot by directors like David Slade and Guillermo Navarro, making Hannibal one of the most visually lush series in recent memory.
But it’s not all about looks. Fuller uses the police procedural structure to stage a complex and rewarding character drama.
Will’s grip on his sanity is gradually loosened by Hannibal, whose interest in his new friend creates a fascinating dilemma for the character: how far can he push him before he breaks? Dancy creates a sympathetic and compelling lead, while Mikkelsen is utterly magnetic as Lecter, so much so that we almost forget who he is… until he reminds us.
There’s a clear love for – and intimate knowledge of – Thomas Harris’ novels, but Fuller isn’t afraid to add his own tweaks and changes. It’s close to the source but with stunning visuals, perfect casting and a wonderfully macabre sense of humour, Hannibal is also very much a Bryan Fuller show.
Certainly not for the squeamish, this pitch-black treat is one of the best horror series in years.
Hannibal is glorious. Bring on the next course.