At once foggy and murky, The Essex Serpent is much in need of a . . serpent. Claiming to be the oldest recorded town in Britain is Colchester in Essex. Fifty miles northeast of London, by all appearances, it would also be one of the “marshiest.” Set in 1893, appropriately named Cora Seabourne intends to investigate the sighting of a mythical sea serpent. Could a plesiosaurus have survived extinction? Vicar Will Ransome discourages such uneducated talk, but the rumors persist. Did that woman from London cause the beast to surface?
From the aforesaid interesting premise, AppleTV+ bring you six episodes of The Essex Serpent. Notwithstanding two outstanding performances and a relative certainty that the series will spawn numerous awards, I will pass. Too slow and dark by half, I’ve lost patience. Subplots include Cora’s now-deceased husband abusing her, and children having fits. Add in a female friend who seems to have feelings for Cora while espousing socialist thoughts. The vicar and a London surgeon also have eyes for Cora, none of the aforesaid three supportive of her amateur paleontology efforts. It’s all too much and too unlikely. I give The Essex Serpent 3.5 Gavels and it receives an 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 6.8/10 IMDb score.
Did the serpent tempt Gracie to sin with Samuel Dowsett? Gracie missing, her sister Naomi is certain The Essex Serpent took her. Now freed from her abusive husband, Cora Seabourne leaves London society for backwater Colchester. The townsfolk suspicious, only the vicar, Will Ransome and wife, Stella, welcome her. Even her son, Frankie, “hates fresh air” and begs to return to London. When Naomie says she saw the serpent, the vicar warns that “at night, our fears take hold.” Notwithstanding the distrust, Cora is determined to bring science to Colchester. But, “girls don’t do science.”
Claire Danes (Homeland) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) are a dream pairing as Cora and Will. Are any two actors more intense? Clemence Poesy (The Tunnel) appears as Will’s wife, Stella, not seen often enough in the first two episodes. Given screen time, she has an intensity all her own. Quality performances are not the problem for these three, it’s the script.
Episodes three through six appear weekly on Fridays though June 10th. Viewers will notice an Adam and Eve vibe to the show given the themes of religion, temptation, serpents, and sin. Presumably, the part of Dr. Luke Garrett, famed London heart surgeon, gets fleshed out in future episodes. Other than the contrast between male and female scientists, the former encouraged, the latter discouraged, his part doesn’t tie in.
“At least the drama lights up whenever Hiddleston appears on screen. Because it’s otherwise desperately dreary, which is unforgivable when the source material is so rich.” Daily Telegraph (UK)
“This ‘Serpent’ slithers away without leaving much of an impact.” Chicago Sun-Times
On the plus side, if you are into eel-fishing, this may be your bag. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Bag it.