Dream of the Endless enters our TV realm – beautifully.
Dear to my heart as Neil Gaiman‘s graphic novel series is, I hoped, but dared not expect, The Sandman to be as beautiful an adaptation as it is. It even brought me to tears more than once (at least two of those times during Ep 6, ‘The Sound of Her Wings’, alone).
In the first six episodes at least, the performers and pacing are perfect. Tom Sturridge as Morpheus, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death, Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian, Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne, Mason Alexander Park as Desire, David Thewlis as John Dee, Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine, Ferdinand Kingsley as Hob Gadling, and particularly Stephen Fry as Gilbert range from perfect to inspired in their casting. (In a future season, I can totally see Jason Momoa as Destruction.)
The visuals throughout the series display an ideal mix of reverence for the source material and filmic fluency in their presentation. Perhaps my favourite production detail: that the end titles are designed by the comic’s genius cover artist, Dave McKean:
From Ep 7 ‘The Doll’s House’ onward, however, the quality of the storytelling and acting drop noticeably. The source material’s plot elements are streamlined a little too economically – more interesting emotional wrinkles are smoothed out into near-twee sentimentality. This isn’t helped by the lack of gravitas in some of the performances, particularly from Vanesu Samunyai as Rose Walker and Razane Jammal as Lyta Hall.
For an adaptation of such an ambitious, sprawling epic, burdened with three decades of fervent fandom, The Sandman is much better than it has any right to be: lovingly made, thoughtfully rendered. Morpheus himself is perhaps already too developed, too warm, by the end of this first season. Not that that’s a negative in itself – it’s just that Dream’s resistance to change, which is really about his emotional distance, is ultimately pivotal in the comic. I fear the show may be stealing its own thunder – but then, so much of the adaptation’s reinvention has worked so well so far, perhaps this element will too. There’s enough in season one to make the prospect of future episodes exciting to contemplate.