Since Anthony Hopkins’ iconic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s The Silence Of The Lambs, many have argued that no one else should even bother attempting to compete with his legacy. The way in which he captured the infamous cannibal’s simultaneous creepiness and intelligence and brought Thomas Harris’ character to life in such a memorable way is nothing short of a genius performance.
However, although this version of Hannibal Lecter is now very much in the public consciousness, the films Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002) were much less successful (both in themselves and in the public eye) than The Silence Of The Lambs, despite Hannibal’s more central role. The reason for this is undoubtedly that Hannibal works best when playing off other characters and remaining more mysterious himself; in The Silence Of The Lambs, Clarice Starling takes the lead and we are able to view Hannibal through her eyes, so he can appear consistently intimidating.
Hannibal, this year’s gory new TV show, is also aware of these nuances. Although Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is still a key player within the circle of main characters, he never has a disproportionate amount of screen time and is tainted with mystery and unanswered questions for much of the first season. Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is the show’s equivalent to Clarice Starling, as he works alongside the FBI’s behavioural science unit by empathising with serial killers and getting into their frame of mind in order to catch them; in this role, he becomes a psychiatric patient of Hannibal and their relationship becomes very complicated.
Many were skeptical when a new interpretation of Hannibal was announced, especially in TV form, but its first series was an indisputable success. As far as any psychological thriller goes, Hannibal uses exemplary technique in lighting, especially in the way Hannibal himself is made to look haunting and enigmatic in the shadows, as well as in Will’s dream sequences and the music, which is sometimes clichéd but always intensifies the mood.
Every single one of the actors and actresses seen in Hannibal give exemplary performances (especially Hugh Dancy, who will rip your heart out) but, as the name of the show indicates, it would all be irrelevant without someone who can embody and truly be Hannibal Lecter, as Mads Mikkelsen has done. Even without choosing an iconic tick like Anthony Hopkins’ creepy tongue hiss, Mads’ deeply set eyes and intense, full-faced consideration is captivating enough; his soft, Danish accent only makes him more inscrutable.
The series also crucially manages to weave threads throughout the first season’s thirteen episodes that the viewer may not even realise are essential until they creep up again. The Chesapeake Ripper and the copycat are particularly important, with the distinction between the two often feeling blurred, and links to the first episode’s Garrett Jacob Hobbs often enter surprisingly.
To continue a story that feels both fast-paced and steady, with both separate and overlapping notions, is a skill that the writers must absolutely be congratulated for. They allow Hannibal to come into his own for the first time in twenty-two years, and the whole thing manages to feel fresh and new whilst not disrespecting the tone of the previous interpretations. The wait for the second season to see how Will and Hannibal’s story continues and for Mads Mikkelsen to build on his interpretation will be an impatient one.