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Hannibal - First episode review

Hannibal

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

PARDON the macabre pun, but the opening episode of Hannibal on Sky Living had plenty to feast upon.

Following the distinctly uneven first series of The Following, this latest serial killer import from the US immediately raised the standard.

Inspired by Thomas Harris’s books about infamous cannibal Dr Hannibal Lecter and drawing most predominantly from Red Dragon, this chronicles – by way of procedural – the beginnings of the relationship between criminal profiler Will Graham (played here by British actor Hugh Dancy) and Lecter (Danish actor and former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen).

Yet while knowledge can sometimes be an inhibitor in terms of creating dramatic tension, series creator Bryan Fuller and director David Slade has already created a wonderfully ambiguous (or shall we say twisted) central dynamic between its main pair.

In this opener, Lecter and Graham were introduced almost as mis-matched partners. The latter, a socially inept criminal expert with possible autistic tendencies, whose ability to ‘make leaps’ while profiling serial killers makes him an invaluable weapon in the arsenal of the FBI’s head of behavioural sciences unit, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne).

Lecter, on the other hand, is a debonair psychologist, whose profiling abilities are as astute as Graham’s. In Crawford’s mind, two heads are better than one, especially when hunting a killer responsible for the death of at least eight women, whose crimes are becoming more frequent.

Needless to say, Graham takes issue with Lecter’s presence, particularly when Lecter turns his focus upon him. But so begins their game of psychological cat-and-mouse. When Graham declares that he doesn’t find Lecter interesting, a quick response comes back in the form of “you will”.

This opening instalment lay tantalising groundwork and contained a wonderful ambiguity. To those who don’t know, Lecter would seem to be the safer bet for someone to count on. He’s warmer, more approachable. Graham is awkward and stand-offish.

It is Lecter who stays at the hospital overnight to comfort a surviving member of the killer’s family once he has been caught. Yet, it was Lecter who tipped the same killer off regarding Graham’s imminent arrival. What were his motivations in doing so? And when will Graham begin to have his own suspicions aroused that his new ‘partner’ is not all he seems?

Both actors were excellent. Dancy, especially, shone in a role that could well be a game changer for him. This is a massive departure from anything that he has done before but he made Graham a compelling individual – someone undeniably brilliant but not always comfortable to know (perhaps because of his own discomforts with himself).

Mikkelsen, too, is clearly having fun. There’s the occasional maniacal glint in his eye (as witnessed when one of his patients dared put a used handkerchief on his pristine table), or when slicing meat in preparation for a meal. But for the most part, he’s cool and calculated. An enigmatic presence.

And while Hannibal didn’t shy away from the more horrid elements of the crimes this duo are investigating (it is bloody), it never felt cheap or sensational in the same way that The Following often did. Rather, the violence served a purpose. It created a feeling of unease for the viewer, as did the unsettling imagery afforded by Slade’s stylish direction (often realised from the perspective of Graham’s tortured mind).

This is deeply impressive stuff. Intelligent, sometimes shocking, occasionally playful and utterly gripping. It’s TV not to be missed.

Hannibal airs on Sky Living on Tuesday nights from 10pm.