Why we are so fascinated by serpents and mythical monsters is anyone’s guess. For some people, chasing the Loch Ness Monster is like worshiping an all-knowing being in the sky. This is part of the message explored in The Essex Serpentan adaptation of a 2016 novel set in Victorian-era Essex.
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THE ESSEX SNAKE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening shot: An overview of a marsh delta in the UK county of Essex. A girl holding a cross and doing incantations wades through a swamp, her sister yelling at her.
The essential: In London, Dr. Luke Garrett (Frank Dillane) makes a house call on Cora Seaborne (Claire Danes), whose husband is slowly being strangled by throat cancer. Dr. Garrett offers to do surgery to relieve the pressure on her husband’s throat, but he refuses. He dies overnight.
While grieving, Cora also remembers the abuse her overbearing husband inflicted on her. as she has conversations with Dr. Garrett, she finds that she has a strong desire to pursue his interests. So she decides to vacation in an Essex seaside town with her son and companion Martha (Hayley Squires) and search for a once-mythical sea serpent. reports have come out of the area of snake sightings.
On the first day, she helps Will Ransome (Tom Hiddleston), the local vicar who lives in Aldwinter, with a sheep stuck in the swamp; he tells the tourist not to look for the snake, like everyone who has come to town. She doesn’t realize he’s the vicar until she officially visits her family, so he can show her around town. After apologizing for his rudeness the night before, he tells Cora again that the snake doesn’t exist and that the townspeople brought it up to help them cope with “our changing times”.
But the town is nervous about the disappearance of Gracie Banks (Rebecca Ineson). His sister Naomi (Lily-Rose Aslandogdu) is convinced the serpent has taken her, and although Will tries to discourage his parishioners from believing in the beast, a discovery made during his Sunday mass suggests otherwise.
What shows will this remind you of? In time and feeling, The Essex Serpent getting closer to the 2019 series Carnival Row.
Our opinion : The Essex Serpent, adapted by Anna Symon from the 2016 novel by Sarah Perry and directed by Clio Barnard, has the murky look one would expect from a show about a mythical snake that could kill people in the Victorian era. However, the series starts extremely slowly, taking a little too long to build the characters played by Danes and Hiddleston, to the detriment of the pace of the story.
We were a little skeptical about the Danes playing Cora, especially when we learned that Kiera Knightly was originally set to play her, but had to drop out before filming began. Watching the first episode, however, we realized she might have been a better choice, mostly because Cora needs that little bit of unbalanced belief Danes can bring to a role. We completely bought her as a woman who is more in her element getting down in the dirt and chasing snakes, instead of a primitive London housewife whose husband burns her during sex .
Hiddleston plays the kind of handsome but stoic guy he usually plays when he’s not playing Loki, and there’s definitely chemistry between him and the Danes. The idea that the two will bond romantically in pursuit of this serpent, despite their opposing beliefs, will be one of the parts of the upcoming series that we look forward to.
We just don’t know how fast it will happen. Part of the story is that the townspeople will turn on Cora because they think she brought the snake, which likely means she’ll look to Will for protection and comfort. But the first episode gets a little too cozy with the story of Luke’s desire for heart surgery, which is why he’ll move to Essex and compete with Will for Cora’s attention. There’s a lot of discussion, but not much story propulsion, which makes us wonder if a six-part series was the best way to present this novel.
Sex and skin: Cora has nightmares about the violent sex she had with her husband.
Farewell shot: Gracie is found dead or nearly dead. As town members surround her body, her father says, “The snake got her. Will and Cora exchange looks.
Sleeping Star: Hayley Squires as Martha, whose relationship to Cora is unclear. Is she a best friend, a relative, a lover? Either way, she’s Cora’s support system, which keeps her from going completely crazy thinking about the snake.
The most pilot line: In a letter to Luke, Cora says “I still have your heart”. Luke thinks this means she likes him, not thinking she could still have the slice of heart he gave her as a strange gift.
Our call: SPREAD IT. We give temporarily The Essex Serpent a recommendation as the performances of Danes, Hiddleston and the rest of the cast can overcome the laborious pace of the part-time series. But we just don’t know how many people will make it through the six episodes when it looks like the first one doesn’t do much to set up the story.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he’s not fooling himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.