“The Essex Serpent” with Tom Hiddleston: Review

Starring Tom Hiddleston and Claire Danes, The Essex Serpent is an intriguing drama that probably won’t be for everyone… but it rewards those who don’t mind a weird and dark show.

The story, which will air Friday (May 13) on Apple TV+ and is based on the best-selling 2016 novel of the same name, is set in Victorian-era England and follows Cora Seaborne (Danish), a London widow who has a distinct personality Has curiosity about science and nature (especially paleontology) and loves to read Darwin. After her abusive husband dies, she can live her life however she wants. Intrigued by newspaper reports of a “sea dragon” sighted in Essex, she travels there to investigate. She is convinced that the snake could be a real creature that escaped evolution.

Claire Danes smiles and cries while wearing a hat.
Claire Danes as Cora and Tom Hiddleston as Will in The Essex Serpent.
Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston walk on a beach.
Taking a walk: Cora (Claire Danes) and Will (Tom Hiddleston) in The Essex Serpent.

There she lives with the local vicar Will Ransome (Hiddleston) and his wife Stella (Clemence Poesy, “Harry Potter”). She bonds with Will, though he disapproves of the mass belief in the snake and is determined to convince everyone it’s not real. Although Cora and Will present a typical “faith versus science” argument, they are polite about their differences, and it plays out more like a dance between them than a real, violent battle.

Unfortunately for Cora, things get complicated when a local girl is found dead, and because Cora is an outsider who is excited about finding the snake, the villagers view her with suspicion.

Claire Danes in a wig.
Claire Danes as Cora, a Victorian-era widow with an interest in science, in The Essex Serpent.
Tom Hiddleston wears vicar outfit.
Will Ransome (Tom Hiddleston) is the local vicar in The Essex Serpent.

“The Essex Serpent” is difficult to categorize. It has mysterious elements and a death that triggers a series of events, but it’s not a “whodunit”. It’s interpersonal drama as Will and Cora forge an emotional bond that goes beyond the bounds of decency, despite the fact that Will is married – and, to complicate matters further, Cora’s friend from London, the ambitious and slightly scruffy young surgeon Luke Garrett (Frank Dillane), got the hots for her. He is dismayed that she is going to Essex, which he sees as a foolish undertaking and a waste of time.

The show’s romantic elements are low key; The series is not a bodice tear like “Bridgerton” or “Outlander”. And it probably has too many Victorian-era surgical scenes to appeal to fans of those shows (or lighter historical fare like The Gilded Age). Viewers who enjoyed the Clive Owen series The Knick or the underrated 19th century murder story series Alias ​​Grace will enjoy this.

Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston smile at each other on a beach.
Cora (Claire Danes) and Will (Tom Hiddleston) take a stroll through the swamps in The Essex Serpent.

The show also has a prominent focus on the nature of superstition in an island community, with characters conversing about Marxism and socialism. For the most part, all of these different storylines and themes fit together nicely. Sonically, it’s not as chaotic as it could be – an impressive feat considering how scattered these themes are.

But the narrative feels meandering. The Essex Serpent is part of the age-old “Something scary might be happening in this remote coastal region” genre most recently exemplified by “Midnight Mass,” but it’s not as sharp or exciting as that series, as it’s less committed to a specific one Category.

Tom Hiddleston is standing outside, covered in dirt.
Tom Hiddleston as the neglected Will in The Essex Serpent.

Hiddleston and Danes are both predictably solid performers. Danes oozes determination with steely eyes, while Hiddleston gives Will clichéd ‘small-town vicar’ traits and gives him a thoughtful air.

The show is atmospheric, with many scenic shots of rivers, bridges, cobbled streets and marshland in the English countryside. It’s not self-serious, but it doesn’t have much lightness or humor either.

For those looking for a historical drama that feels focused and tightly woven, this will likely disappoint. But for viewers who don’t mind a sprawling show that’s quirky and unique, with a heavy dose of Victorian-era science and intellect, The Essex Serpent delivers.

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