The Lecter Legend

Tonight NBC are set to release a brand new series entitled Hannibal. The show will explore the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and FBI forensic psychologist Will Graham. These roles are being played consecutively by Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy. There will also be notable appearances by Laurence Fishburne who will playing Special Agent Jack Crawford and Gillian Anderson as Dr. Du Maurier, Lecter’s psychotherapist. The show was commissioned and confirmed for, an unusual, thirteen episodes. With the glossy promotional trailer it seems that Hannibal is back with a sultry swagger. With the gaining buzz around the series the question arises as to why the legend of Lecter still arouses such interest more than thirty years after the character was first introduced to us by author Thomas Harris?

The answer lies in the blood-stained chronicles of a charming yet extremely dangerous man that we have come to know through both the books and movies. Red Dragon (1981) covers the dramatic relationship between Lecter and Graham. Each opponent manages to inflict deep wounds on each other in both a physical and psychological capacity. The reader is left with the impression that Hannibal Lecter is ruthless in his endeavors and gruesomely exact in his vengeful retributions. It is also evident that he can hold a grudge. The next novel was The Silence of the Lambs (1988) where we see Lecter assume a seemingly helpful, if twisted, demeanor. His appreciation for manners is shown and through his attitude to Clarice Starling we come to understand that he can also truly adore certain women. The novel Hannibal(1999) takes this theme to the extreme and the twisted seduction evolves into a strange story of love, passion and control. The final book to be written and a precursor to everything was Hannibal Rising (2006) which brings the contributing factors of Lecter’s penchant for consuming his prey to the fore. The novel weaves an intricate tapestry of love, loss, lust and longing that leads to a complex depiction of the character that is Lecter.

The film versions of the novels mainly stayed close to the narrative. The first film to feature Lecter was called Manhunter (1986) and starred Brian Cox in the lead role. Cox portrayed Hannibal in a physical and powerful way. However, it was the performance of Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) that seemed to cement the character in the consciousness of the viewer. He showed us a sharp tongued seducer with a taste for the bloody and a vicious undertone resided in every sentence he uttered. Hopkins reprised the role for Hannibal (2001) which was directed by Ridley Scott. This adaptation significantly veered away from the narrative of the novel. The film maintains the characterization set up when Lecter and Starling met initially and foregoes the grotesque scenes of the ending chapters of the book. Finally, Hannibal Rising (2006), with Gaspard Ulliel in the lead role, tells the tale as told in the novel of the same name explaining Hannibal’s origin. Taking us right back to the character.

I remember the first time I came into contact with the macabre material. I was probably too young to be watching The Silence of the Lambs but my eyes were glued to the screen as the thrilling and terrifying story about a young female FBI agent, a weird skin loving creep and the sinister, yet at times, sweet Hannibal unfurled in front of me. By the end of the film I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in the FBI just like Clarice Starling. A number of factors stood in my way, I’m really short, I live across the Atlantic and I definitely wasn’t a U.S. citizen so that dream was ended as abruptly as the squealing of the lambs. Yet, through writing I found a way to enter that world. Now I create and control men like Lecter day in, day out. The result is a fascination with learning how such a character can come to be. I hope this series sheds some new light on the charismatic killer and oh, by the way NBC – you had me at Hannibal.

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