Apple TV Plus’ The Essex Serpent pits faith against science

Apple TV Plus’ The Essex Serpent pits faith against science

Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston in The Essex Serpent.

Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston present The Essex Serpent
photo: AppleTV+

At the launch of Apple TV+ The Essex Serpent, Victorian wife Cora Seaborne (Claire Danes) is freed from her husband, a brute who once branded her on the neck with a red-hot poker during sex (leaving an S-shaped scar). The sadist dies, apparently of throat cancer, despite the attempted intervention of the brilliant young doctor Luke Garrett (Frank Dillane). Suddenly free, Cora feels both sadness and immense relief. In a way, the monster is dead.

But elsewhere, another is being born at the same time: a legendary leviathan that hunts the brackish waters of Essex on England’s marshy east coast. The dragon-like beast was hunting locals back in 1669, and now, more than 200 years later, villagers fear it has returned. When amateur natural historian Cora reads newspaper reports about the snake, she leaves her London villa for the remote fishing village of Aldwinter. Snake fever is spreading faster than you can yell witch! Cora is blamed for the problems. This lushly shot and gracefully acted series chronicles the collision of two worlds: Cora as a cultured Londoner and champion of science, and the isolated English village where paganism and puritanism tear apart the social fabric despite the efforts of the kindly vicar Will Ransome (Tom Hiddleston). threaten ).

If you haven’t read Sarah Perry’s best-selling 2016 novel on which the series is based, you’ll be stewing in endearing anticipation for the fast-paced six episodes. Is there a supernatural beast out there in the water – or a living dinosaur? Will Cora and Will give in to their apparent attraction? And if not, she’ll get in touch with the flirtatious and boastful Dr. turn Garrett? And what about her affection for her gruff socialist maid Martha (Hayley Squires): is it platonic or something more?

For a series that wants to have its eel pie and eat it too, The Essex Serpent balances folk horror and romantic threads quite well, and that’s thanks to the good writing by Anna Symon, the sure-footed cinematic direction of Clio Barnard, and a strong cast of players. headlining their first series since hometown Completed in 2020, Danes brings her flair for raw emotion and palpable fear, adding to her portraits of Temple Grandin and Carrie Mathison another extraordinary woman struggling against the limitations of her time. She has simmering, playful chemistry with Hiddleston (although the thoughtful, witty dreamship would likely have chemistry with a patch of moss). Dillane adds vital humor and sass as a cocky doctor; and Squires supports a somewhat laborious subplot about improved housing for the poor.

Claire Danes in The Essex Serpent.

Claire Danes in The Essex Serpent
photo: AppleTV+

At the heart of the series are the interlocking social and intellectual bonds between the two main characters. As a provincial priest, Will is humble and educated, and though he is skeptical of the guarantees of scientists, he trusts in a reasonable, loving God. For her part, Cora believes in science – even if that required a leap of faith in the 1890s. Amid the philosophical debates about whether the Church of England or Darwin is the safer path to rationalism and social order, the question that arises remains: is there actually a monster out there in the water? Or is it just a metaphor for unknown things in nature and in the human heart?

Barnard and cinematographer David Raedeker bring the 19th-century Aldwinter to life with a moody palate of swampy grays and greens, a misty, wet zone that’s half water, half land, with grumpy, unwashed islanders skinning moles and them hang on crossed branches to ward off evil spirits. In this damp realm, the ground seems to smoke and stink of fish rot. For a show with “Serpent” in the title, it won’t surprise you that S-shapes dominate the visual vocabulary: aerial shots of Essex waterways winding around fragments of land, Cora’s aforementioned scar, and even rivulets of blood emanating from a heart flow dr Garret operates.

We hesitate to praise the show with one Masterful theatre Day, but there’s a bit of tea-and-biscuit coziness in there The Essex Serpent‘s serious patience and restraint. (Even a spontaneous fuck in the moor is handled discreetly). “Love is not finite; it is not limited to marriage; There are so many ways to love,” Cora tells Will, explaining how friendship and eros can meander around each other like bays and islands. For those who need a break Bridgeton‘s smoldering looks or The great‘s cynicism, try to wade into this human gothic story. The water is cold but refreshing.

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