‘The Essex Serpent’ — Apple TV Plus Review
The Essex Serpent explores the confrontation between science and religion that took place during the last few years of the 19th century, when Darwin’s theory of evolution had already permeated society and threatened the very foundations of religious beliefs that Christians had been preaching for hundreds of years.
The series stars Loki‘s Tom Hiddleston and Homeland‘s Claire Danes, and follows London widow Cora Seaborne (Danes) who moves to Essex to investigate reports of a mythical serpent. She forms a surprising bond of science and skepticism with the local pastor (Hiddleston), but when tragedy strikes, locals accuse her of attracting the creature. Danes’ approach to the creature is scientific in nature, which is not well received by the deeply religious and traditional town. The six-part series is an adaptation of Sarah Perry’s bestselling novel of the same name.
Unfortunately, the series wasn’t as interesting for me. The plot moved very slowly at times, mostly as an attempt to build tension, though it never quite got there. It never elevated itself from the stereotypical British period piece, which some people will find enjoyable, but not me. The cinematography, while capturing beautiful landscapes, was never really eye-grabbing. The color palette is very bland, and the display is not that interesting most of the time. Different gray tonalities are present throughout the show, and they do not help with the overall snoozefest going on.
Hiddleston and Danes are quite good, as we would expect, but one has to wonder what exactly they are doing here. Hiddleston was nominated for an Emmy back in 2016, and one would think that, in between filming seasons of Loki, he would try for a challenging role that would get Awards attention. Maybe on paper this was it, but this is nothing compared to the work he’s done over the years as the God of Mischief. He just gets the job done, never excels at it, and he doesn’t phone it in either.
Danes, on her part, sometimes feels a bit out of place. It might be because I’m accustomed to seeing her as Carrie in Homeland, with an American accent and 21st-century clothing. For a non-expert in British accents, I don’t have problems with hers. My problem with her is that I never was able to see the character, I just saw Claire Danes doing an English accent. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also part of the casting process, and the show just has to live with it. It’s possible the New York actress was just looking for a new direction after playing the same role for many years, and I’m glad to see she’s trying to reinvent herself, but it will take a few more tries, as far as I’m concerned.
The Essex Serpent works at its best when it’s about the conflict between science and religion. The scripts contain a few lines that would seem absolutely ridiculous said out loud in any context today, but that, at the time, were perfectly normal. It works as a reflection on how far we’ve come in the last 150 years as a society, especially in the ways we’ve embraced science. This was obviously never clearer than in the last couple of years, as nothing more than science has helped us survive a global pandemic. And also, to capitalize on more recent news, we now have been able to take a picture of the black hole living in the center of our galaxy, while in the time period The Essex Serpent takes place in, the light bulb was less than two decades old.
The series will premiere its first two episodes on Apple TV Plus on Friday, May 13th, and will air the rest on a weekly basis, every Friday.
Miguel Fernández is a Spanish student that has movies as his second passion in life. His favorite movie of all time is The Lord of the Rings, but he is also a huge Star Wars fan. However, fantasy movies are not his only cup of tea, as authors like Scorsese, Fincher, Kubrick or Hitchcock have been an obsession for him since he started to understand the language of filmmaking. He is that guy who will watch a black and white movie, just because it is in black and white.