“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”- immortal words from an infamous character.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter has the honour of being named the American Film Institutes #1 villain, and there are few who do not know his name, his iconic mask or his disturbing sound effects. Over the course of twenty-seven years, and with three actors portraying him (Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins and Gaspard Ulliel respectively), he has graced cinema screens worldwide in five different feature films. Now, seven years after the last film, NBC is bringing the character back to life, focusing on the foundations of the eponymous villain’s relationship with FBI profiler Will Graham in a new 13- part series.
Taking on the role of Lecter is Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. Fresh from several years that have seen him spiral between blockbuster fair such as Clash of the Titans and The Three Musketeers and brilliant, independent, European films, such as last year’s The Hunt and A Royal Affair, Mikkelsen is an intriguing choice. He is undoubtedly one of the most watchable actors working today and his supporting performances even in the most questionable of films (Titans anyone?), have seen him gleefully but respectfully steal scenes from the leads in every instance. In this pilot we’re made to wait for our new Lecter, but the wait is worth it. Appearing at the half way point, Mikkelsen is unnerving, disturbing and intellectually brilliant in his opening scenes that begin the sparring between himself and his FBI profiler counterpart.
But whilst it may be Lecter’s name that sits on the show’s title card, have no doubts, this is Will Graham’s show. Portrayed here by British actor Hugh Dancy, fresh from extraordinary indie film Martha Marcy May Marlene, it is most definitely Graham’s story.
The narrative of the pilot follows Graham as he is pulled away from his lecturn at Georgetown University to help profile a killer for the FBI. Blessed and cursed with complete empathy, he tracks the killer’s motives and moves as they steer past copycats and to the true killer. The ‘mystery’ of the episode itself is no great feat of storytelling, it’s pretty much the standard serial killer plot that is thrown at all crime dramas, but this storyline is no doubt a subplot to the real main storyline, the meeting of Hannibal and Graham.
It’s especially nice to discover Hannibal at such an intriguing, purposely ambiguous time. Dark imagery of him cooking lavish, gothic meals are intercut with discussions of cannibalism and killing, leaving the viewer quite unsure of whether our Lecter has quite reached the fava bean and chianti stage of his life yet, or if he hasn’t reached the tipping point yet. It’s this ambiguity that the series will thrive off, and if the pilot is anything to go back, it will play as the pivotal focus and intrigue of each episode.
There is no doubting the direction the creative team wanted to take the show in terms of appearance and atmosphere, every shot is dark and dank, even those shot in the daytime outside have muted, dull colours to intensify the danger at hand. Thick, lush, graphic gothic imagery is used frequently and whilst it does quickly become overused and unoriginal, it is nice to see a show so bold in aesthetically pulling itself away from its contemporaries. In a world of Scandinavian remakes, mystery novel adaptations and star-driven crime thrillers, it could be one of the key factors that will ensure the longevity of this new series.
With expert players Mikkelsen and Dancy surrounded by an equally adept supporting cast (including The Matrix actor Laurence Fishburne), there are no doubts it’s one of the most interesting new additions to the scheduling this year, but only time will tell if it has enough bite to survive the murky waters of American Crime Dramas.
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