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The Essex Serpent – Claire Danes Hunts An Invisible Monster in this Romantic Series

SERIES REVIEW – Also from the spy series Homeland, Claire Danes stars as Cora Seaborne, a woman who travels to 19th century Essex to discover the mystery of a giant, potentially evil sea serpent plaguing a fishing village. Mystery, romance, a touch of horror and great performances characterise this costume series.

 

 

Victorian England was a tumultuous time and place, buzzing with both progress and reactionary fear, with advances in science and women’s rights. Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species in 1859, which provoked both excitement and outrage. The new possibilities of surgery and other medical procedures gave hope to the sick, even if the squalid conditions in the slums of London ensured that disease was in abundance. There was also an upsurge of spiritual crisis and oppression alongside the spiritual opportunities.

 

thegeek The Essex Serpent 1

 

Reason and emotion

 

This is the backdrop to Apple TV+’s latest limited series, The Essex Serpent, four episodes of which are available on the streaming channel so far. Based on the novel by Sarah Perry, the series is a hotbed of romantic intrigue that illuminates the clash of modern ideas and contemporary superstitions.

At times a little over-dramatic, the series allows enough room for mystery and respect for the unknown to be both a sufficiently intellectual and romantic experience while also brilliantly exploring issues of faith and doubt embedded in the period.

Claire Danes is brilliant as Cora Seaborne, a recently widowed amateur palaeontologist curious about the news of a snake that has plagued the coastal county of Essex. Cora considers herself open-minded enough to consider the possibility that there may indeed be a mythical beast swimming in the waters of the small English village. Perhaps it’s a new species. But what she finds when she arrives with her young son is even more disturbing.

 

thegeek The Essex Serpent 2

 

Sinister events

 

The people of Essex are terrified. A teenage girl is found dead. Something in the water had torn the fishing nets apart. The local vicar (Tom Hiddleston, also excellent) urges calm and preaches as much rational thought as he can. But he can’t quell the hysteria, which escalates when Cora brings her collection of fossils to the village school and seems to fall into a haunting trance among the students. The townspeople soon blame Cora for unleashing the snake’s wrath with her big-city, outspokenly questioning lifestyle.

Divided between the misty moors of south-east England (with the ghostly glow of the night sky) and the bustle of London, The Essex Serpent is a starkly perceptive account of the divide between the two worlds, which is not simply a geographical one. London is the place where a posh, narcissistic, but at the same time genuinely professional young surgeon (Frank Dillane) courts Cora, and where Cora’s friend and maid Martha (Hayley Squires), a committed socialist, tries to organise against the city’s housing inequalities. Essex is determined to cling to his old ways, which means that the never-before-seen snake is a harbinger of evil, an all-encompassing symbol of sin and evil.

 

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In love with everyone else hopelessly

 

The Essex Serpent was published in 2016, but it is a true Victorian novel in many ways. Cora is in love with the vicar; the surgeon is in love with Cora and of course both passions are pretty hopeless.

As for Will and Cora: the actors who play them are at their most convincing when the repressed passion comes out of them, and the chemistry between the two is brilliant. Will’s sceptical attitude to faith and Cora’s faithful attitude to science go from opposites to compatible in record time thanks to Hiddleston and Danes’ portrayals.

The Serpent of Essex thus falls prey to more clichés in its telling of Will and Cora’s unfolding, forbidden love. Even though the events are sometimes slow and the performance of one or two of the supporting characters leaves something to be desired, the first four episodes were not to be complained about. Danes does well in the moments when Cora has to come to terms with her overwhelming emotions, and there is hardly anyone better than Hiddleston to play the tormented, lovelorn priest – a reformed but married man – struggling with his feelings. There are also, of course, many other events and characters that keep the series alive: the snake’s oppressive ‘presence’ (real or mystified) in the increasingly fanatical town, the scenes where Cora’s love of science clashes with her subconscious instincts, her friend Martha, a committed member of the then-nascent socialist movement.

 

 

Good period drama

 

Overall, The Serpent of Essex is a fascinating, enjoyable series, with the mysticism of the serpent in great harmony with the romance, the contrasts between modern views and ancient beliefs and bigoted religiosity, and the excellent period setting. The setting in 19th century Essex is interesting, the colours and costumes are beautiful, and the visuals are simply stunning thanks to the AppleTV+’s pin-sharp 4K display. One or two clichés, a few weak performances and the slow-moving events of the time only detract from what is otherwise a very good series.

-BadSector-

 

 

SERIES REVIEW – Also from the spy series Homeland, Claire Danes stars as Cora Seaborne, a woman who travels to 19th century Essex to discover the mystery of a giant, potentially evil sea serpent plaguing a fishing village. Mystery, romance, a touch of horror and great performances characterise this costume series.     Victorian England was a tumultuous time and place, buzzing with both progress and reactionary fear, with advances in science and women's rights. Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species in 1859, which provoked both excitement and outrage. The new possibilities of surgery and other…
Overall, The Serpent of Essex is a fascinating, enjoyable series, with the mysticism of the serpent in great harmony with the romance, the contrasts between modern views and ancient beliefs and bigoted religiosity, and the excellent period setting. The setting in 19th century Essex is interesting, the colours and costumes are beautiful, and the visuals are simply stunning thanks to the AppleTV+'s pin-sharp 4K display. One or two clichés, a few weak performances and the slow-moving events of the time only detract from what is otherwise a very good series.

The Essex Serpent

Direction - 7.4
Actors - 7.2
Story - 7.2
Visuals/Music/Sounds - 7.6
Ambience - 7.3

7.3

GOOD

Overall, The Serpent of Essex is a fascinating, enjoyable series, with the mysticism of the serpent in great harmony with the romance, the contrasts between modern views and ancient beliefs and bigoted religiosity, and the excellent period setting. The setting in 19th century Essex is interesting, the colours and costumes are beautiful, and the visuals are simply stunning thanks to the AppleTV+'s pin-sharp 4K display. One or two clichés, a few weak performances and the slow-moving events of the time only detract from what is otherwise a very good series.

User Rating: 4.31 ( 1 votes)

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