The Essex Serpent is a strange show. The title and logline of the Apple TV+ series suggest it’s about a small English town that becomes the destination of a mythical sea creature, and this element is certainly part of it The Essex Serpent. The series’ eerie opening scene even goes so far as to suggest that it will be its main focus. However, when it comes to mythical monsters and spooky deaths, The Essex Serpent often falls short.
That’s because unlike what The Essex SerpentThe title suggests that this isn’t some Victorian-era monster/mystery show. Instead, the series has more in common with a hot romance Pride and Prejudice than it, shall we say, Creature from the Black Lagoon. As a result, The Essex Serpent is practically chock-full of footage of several well-regarded actors wandering thoughtfully through mist-shrouded English swamps as they contemplate the feelings of longing and romance tearing them apart.
The series is also replete with gorgeous costumes and some of the most visually gorgeous cinematography you’ll see on a TV show this year, which only adds to the series’ gothic vibes and tales of tormented romance. That is, depending on where your interests lie, The Essex Serpent may or may not have exactly what you are looking for.
Based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Sarah Perry The Essex Serpent follows Cora Seaborne (Claire Danes), a London housewife who is freed from her abusive and suffocating marriage when her husband dies. Finally able to live her life the way she wants, Cora is drawn to rumors of a sea creature that has allegedly begun terrorizing the citizens of a rural English town.
Convinced the creature could be a creature believed to be extinct, Cora takes the opportunity to pursue her love of science and natural history and moves to Essex, USA, with her son and maid Martha (Hayley Squires) in hopes to discover the truth behind the city’s mythical snake. There, Cora crosses paths with Will Ransome (Tom Hiddleston), a married small-town pastor, with whom she quickly forms a surprisingly strong bond.
Their relationship is complicated not only by Will’s loving relationship with his wife Stella (Clémence Poésy), but also by the fact that many of the town’s superstitious citizens are convinced that Cora’s arrival has something to do with the recent disappearances of several of them could neighbors. These two conflicts put a significant strain on Will and Cora’s bond, which is also hampered by Cora’s ongoing trauma from her abusive marriage.
Cora and Will’s relationship makes it through the mess of The Essex Serpent‘s numerous subplots and conflicts, and that’s largely thanks to the actors who play them. Even when playing absolute cads, Hiddleston has an innate ability to inject a certain level of sincerity into his characters. This talent makes him uniquely well suited to the role of Will Ransome, a preacher whose romantic longing is evident even beneath his humble, quiet demeanor. Danes, on the other hand, has always been a brave, emotional performer, and she wears Cora’s emotions on her face for all the world to see, making her a compelling counterpart to Hiddleston’s will.
Frank Dillane also shines as Dr. Luke Garrett, an arrogant and talented surgeon who was attracted to Danes Cora from an early age The Essex Serpent‘s first episode. Dillane’s loud, confident performance makes Luke the perfect third point The Essex SerpentThe central love triangle. The show’s scripts also manage to expose Luke’s various flaws and strengths without ever trying to take the easy route by making him either too arrogant or too friendly. Ultimately, he turns out to be the most multifaceted of the show’s three main characters.
The strength of The Essex Serpent‘s central characterizations, however, do not extend to the plot or attempt at the show’s thematic depth. Many of the show’s six episodes feel scattered and sluggish in a way that makes it extremely difficult at times to stay invested in the ongoing storylines. While its attempts to tell a story about how painful an ongoing process can be admirable, the series ends up throwing too many ideas on the wall for its thematic intentions to crystallize as satisfactorily as they should.
From Luke’s controversial desire to advance surgical studies to Martha’s obsession with socialism, The Essex Serpent is full of subplots about how difficult it can be for people to accept change. However, this theme is also evident in Cora’s inability to move on from her husband’s abuse and in the way so many Essex townsfolk choose to cast outdated beliefs when confronted with something that they do not understand. it is when The Essex Serpent focuses on the latter storylines that involve it the most, but the series frequently forsakes its core conflicts to focus on superfluous subplots that are too loosely connected to even feel meaningful.
In other words, The Essex Serpent is a bit mixed. The series’ sluggish pace and unfocused narrative may make it too frustrating for some viewers, while others might be won over by the gorgeous costumes and mood. Visually, the series is practically unmatched, with director Clio Barnard filling its six episodes with some truly stunning gothic imagery. The show’s color palette also places a heavy emphasis on black and blue, adding accents The Essex Serpent‘s various shadowy spaces and the vast navy blue sky that spreads out over its characters.
While the series may prove to be something of a litmus test of its viewers’ tastes and interests, The Essex Serpent is also a show that understands some fundamental fundamentals – namely that there are few places more cinematically appealing than misty English towns, and no characters better suited to them than two heartbreaking romantics.
The first two episodes of The Essex Serpent Premieres Friday, May 13 on Apple TV+.
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