By Milo Ryan, Deputy Film & Television Editor
The initial rumours of an adaptation for Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman were first whispered almost 30 years ago. With the arrival of this much-anticipated release, much was to be expected. Imbued with all the metaphorical imagery and fantastical nuances that Gaiman’s writing so often possesses, transposing this 10-volume heavy graphic novel collection into a visual serial format is an act of unparalleled difficulty. Faced with this challenge, Netflix, just as the sandman himself, proposes to create a work of dreams, which hopefully leaves all possibilities for nightmares firmly within the realm of the sleeping.
Tackling an adaptation in which temporality, setting and character change constantly, the show’s meditative pace and carefully considered worldbuilding ensure viewers are not lost in the rapid jumps between the cities, periods and storylines that are essential in the creation of this fantasy’s story.
While the show’s visual effects team suffers no losses in their portrayal of this show’s fantastic elements, it is the characters by which this production truly triumphs. Boasting a cast of immense talent and fame, there is much to be said on behalf of the casting directors Lucinda Syson and Natasha Vincent.
Emerging nightmarishly, composed completely of sinewy limbs and breathy timbre, Tom Sturridge portrays the cadaverously pale ‘Lord of Dreams’ with ease. With moody gesticulations and emphatic sighs, Sturridge ensures the hyperbolic melancholy of Gaiman’s original character is represented from the get-go.
This sense of sadness, however, whilst immediately all-encompassing, is but one dimension of this multifaceted, endless being. It is upon the entry of Dream’s efficient, if not somewhat modest sidekick, Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong), that the warmer tones of Sturridge’s supposedly blanched characterisation appear to seep through.
David Thewlis, too, soars in his expressive performance of John Dee. Working alongside fantastical allegory, Thewlis’ performance peaks within the series’ fifth episode. Contemplating the dishonesty of humanity within a scene riddled with curiosity and horror, Thewlis acts as the vehicle through which this episode’s unnerving quality can be most effectually articulated.
Whilst Thewlis’ performance here is undoubtedly gripping, and the assembly of this episode is near perfection, it is the following episode that I believe deserves complete adulation.
Whilst ensuring not to spoil this scene with specificities, I will say that it is in the performance of Kirby Howell-Baptiste through which the entire adaptation’s fantastic qualities truly come to life. As is often the aim of the fantasy genre, this episode utilises the limitless potential of non-reality to allegorise the disquiet and discomfort of the everyday.
Professed through a soft tone, solemn smile and suitably minimal costuming, Kirby Howell-Baptiste manages to do just this. Complimenting the inconceivability of her character’s nature with her approachable mannerisms, she exudes benevolence and manages to manifest huge emotive sentiments. She regrettably features in only one episode; as quickly as she appears, she is gone.
In this brief flurry, however, her performance creates an atmosphere that, not unlike a good dream, permeates the mind of Dream and viewer alike. Although I understand the nature of this storyline requires her fleeting performance, my one qualm comes only as a testament to the quality of her acting: I wanted more Kirby Howell-Baptiste.
This August boasts a feast of television for fantasy fans, with imminent re-entry to J.R.R.Tolkien’s world in The Rings of Power (2022) and a return to George R.R. Martin’s Westeros in the upcoming series House of the Dragon (2022). As a result, The Sandman’s release is not without competition.
However, in a month so heavily saturated with big-budget fantasy releases, The Sandman impressively asserts itself amongst these generic titans whilst simultaneously setting the tone for fantasy releases still to come.
Although sometimes oversaturated with Americanised, predictable scripting and some questionable acting from Vanesu Samunyai, The Sandman is ultimately an inspiring and monumental fantasy series that serves as a triumphant addition to the varied menagerie of previous Neil Gaiman adaptations.
Featured Image: IMDB
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