The Sandman: Netflix nails Neil Gaiman’s ‘unfilmable’ dream odyssey

TV review: It’s not perfect, but the 10-part series with a starry cast is enjoyable and imaginative

If you’re a comic book reader of a certain vintage and temperament it is possible that you have been waiting half your life for The Sandman to come to the screen. And finally, here it is: Neil Gaiman’s hallucinatory dream odyssey adapted as a 10-part series. And, if not perfect, it debunks the idea that Gaiman’s masterpiece is inherently “unfilmable”.

Our hero is Morpheus, aka the Lord of Dreams, aka a dead ringer for one of those goths who populated every secondary school in Ireland in the late 1980s (from third year up, each class was obliged to have at least one).

He’s a moochy type, as befits his job as the angst-ridden architect of our dreams and nightmares. But if all-knowing, Morpheus is not all-powerful. This we discover when he is trapped by a malevolent British sorcerer (Charles Dance), who wants to bring back from the dead the son he lost to the trenches of the first World War.

It is, alas, a case of mistaken identity. Roderick Burgess is after Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), not Dream. Never mind – he chucks Dream in prison where he is fated to spend the next 60 years. And in his absence, noxious forces escape dreamland. These include the Corinthian, a nightmare-made-flesh, who embraces a new incarnation of a gentleman serial killer.

As Morpheus, Tom Sturridge delivers a masterclass in tempestuous glumness. Dream is an old soul and misery boots to boot. But hidden passions churn beneath his glacial surface and Sturridge does well in giving us glimpses of Dream’s inner life.

He does well, too, holding his own against a cast sprinkled in stardust. The Corinthian is portrayed with an exultant leer by Narcos’ Boyd Holbrook. Meanwhile, Jenna Colman plays a demon-hunting private detective. Gwendoline Christie is Satan. David Thewlis turns up as a polite madman. Irish actress Niamh Walsh (Smother) appears briefly as one of Dream’s early captors. And Mark Hamill voices Merv Pumpkinhead – a (spoiler alert) talking Pumpkin named Merv.

Neil Gaiman is today an acknowledged master of the fantastical and the author of best-sellers such as American Gods and Coraline. He was, however, a struggling nobody when DC handed him the obscure character of Sandman in 1989 and asked only that he let his imagination run wild.

He did exactly that across a spaced-out saga that expanded the horizons of the comic book genre. And that same sense of wonder and uncanniness ripples through Netflix’s Sandman as the story moves beyond Morpheus’ captivity to encompass time travel, serial killers, and a young girl with the power to change the world of dreams.

There are flaws. The Johanna Constantine (Coleman) chapter tries to squeeze in too much (Constantine, an established comic book character, needs more room to breathe). And the final episode feels rushed. But these quibbles will not spoil anyone’s enjoyment of a series that, in reinventing a brooding anti-hero for Generation Binge, proves that sometimes dreams do come true.