There has long been an admirably British element at play in the world of Dr Hannibal Lecter. For reasons best known to cineliterate sociologists, the British have always carried with them an air of villainy. Philippa Gates noted in her book Detecting Men, that ‘by the middle of the twentieth century, a familiarity with the fine arts and a cultivated British accent were all it took to established a given male character as an enemy of the American way of life.’
If Dr. Lecter is associated with anything – bar his ability to conjure up an exquisite meal using anything from a Cornish game hen to a human oesophagus – it’s his great familiarity with fine arts. Small wonder that directors cast their eyes towards Albion when it came to filling Lecter’s asylum-fatigues.
First, Brian Cox played the good doctor in Michael Mann’s Manhunter to creeping, chilling effect. After Anthony Hopkins’s superlative Oscar winning performance in The Silence of The Lambs, even American baddies started heightening their villainy with clipped English accents (see John Lithgow in Cliffhanger).
The UK connection moved behind the cameras in 2001 when Sir Ridley Scott took the reins on Hannibal and it continues today in the acclaimed NBC show of the same name. Of course, Will Graham is played by Her Majesty’s Finest, Hugh Dancy, but behind the laptop now sits acclaimed horror writer Tom Deville.
“A few years ago, I spent some time developing a horror show for British TV with (Hannibal’s executive producer) Steve Lightfoot. I was very lucky in that he enjoyed working with me and offered me a freelance writing position on Season 3,” says Deville in a lightly toasted voice, reminiscent of a young George Sanders.
“It’s always fun to work with smart, lovely people and the Hannibal writers room is full of them. We laughed a surprising amount, considering the foul deeds we were debating.” Such deeds so far this series have included a memorable stabbing through the temple of a pompous Florentine academic (who had only just started to dine unwittingly on a fellow literati). Anyone who saw Deville’s episode last night will know that there was foulness aplenty on display.
The explosive finale of Season 2 has shattered and scattered the major characters and it’s taken a few episodes for everyone to start piecing themselves back together. By Deville’s episode – Ep. 5 “Contorto” – uneasy stability has returned and there is revenge in the air. “By the time of my episode, Hannibal and Bedelia’s enemies are closing in on them.”
Fidelity to Thomas Harris’s source novels has been remarkable throughout Hannibal’s run. Those familiar with previous Lecter outings will have noted that the chronology of his adventures has been Rubik’s-cubed beyond recognition ever since the death of a major character (by fiery means as described in Red Dragon (and Manhunter)) turned out to have been staged. As Deville suggests, “I think Bryan sees that there is a certain amount of fun to be had in remixing the texts, so that the long-term Harris fans never quite know what to expect.
“I think it gives the writers more toys to play with. Harris has such fascinating characters in his novels – such as Freddie Lounds and the Vergers – but he often tends to drop them from one book to the next. By fracturing the narrative, Bryan has created a kind of Hannibal jambalaya – a Hannibalaya? – a really satisfying stew of all the oddballs and freaks that populate Hannibal’s world.”
While the bulk of the narrative in Season 3 deals with the events Harris describes in the Hannibal novel (and Scott’s movie version), the Hannibal writers haven’t written off the less well-regarded Hannibal Rising when it comes to referencing Lecter’s early years.
“There was still some good meat in Hannibal Rising that Bryan’s thrown into the pot,” says Deville. “The grisly dream-sequence stag murder from Season 2 was lifted from Rising. We explore a little of Hannibal’s childhood and it’s not spoiling anything at this stage to say that Hannibal’s aunt, Lady Murasaki becomes a major character.”
As Bryan Fuller told HeyUGuys, he got his wish to shoot the third series ‘somewhere warm.’ Presumably the writers too benefitted from an all-expenses trip to Tuscany for the benefits of research? “Unfortunately, although my episode is set in Florence, I had to rely on an excellent guide book and my imagination to conjure its magnificence.”
Hannibal is one of the few horror shows to develop a secondary army of avid enthusiasts from the foodie community, probably still reeling from the masterful Roti de Cuisse from Season 2 (clay-roasted thigh. Eddie Izzard’s thigh, to be precise which was fed to its previous owner). “Bryan expects all the writers on the show to take an intensive, six months of training at El Bulli-level kitchens before we are allowed to write any of the food sequences.” So does this mean that there are several new lavish feasts in the Deville repertoire? “Seeing as I only had time to do a weekend shift at a local Harvester pub, I was given an episode that was light on food and heavy on murder.”
Food writers around the world united with the legions of “Fannibals” in a collective gasp of horror when NBC announced that the current season would in fact be the last. “Hannibal would probably sauté me for using such a weak pun but obviously I’m gutted,” said Deville, ruefully. “Hannibal is a rare gem in the TV schedules – an intelligent, stylish arthouse horror. Everything about it was beautifully constructed. It’s a great shame that we’ve potentially lost such a treasure. As to any continuation on Netflix etc., I think that’s down to Bryan and Steve. I know they both deeply love the show so there’s every chance they’ll look to resurrect it elsewhere. As a huge fan of their work, I hope they do.”
And so say all of us.
Hannibal: Episode 5 “Contorto” is available now to watch on Sky Anytime.