At the beginning of Apple TV +’s the essex snake, Victorian wife Cora Seaborne (Claire Danes) is delivered by her husband, a brute who once, during sex, branded her neck with a red-hot poker (leaving an S-shaped scar). The sadist dies, apparently of throat cancer, despite attempts by brilliant young doctor Luke Garrett (Frank Dillane) to intervene. Suddenly free, Cora feels both pain and immense relief. In a sense, the monster is dead.
But at the same time, in another place, another is born: a legendary leviathan who hunts in the brackish waters of Essex, on England’s marshy east coast. The dragon-shaped beast hunted the villagers in 1669, and now, more than 200 years later, the villagers fear he has returned. When amateur natural historian Cora reads newspaper reports about the snake, she leaves her London mansion for the isolated fishing village of Aldwinter. Snake fever spreads, and faster than you can yell “witch!” Cora is being blamed for the problems. Exuberantly filmed and elegantly acted, this series chronicles the collision of two worlds: Cora as a sophisticated Londoner and advocate of science, and the isolated English village where paganism and puritanism threaten to tear the fabric of society, despite the efforts of kind vicar Will Ransome (Tom Hiddleston). ).
If you haven’t read Sarah Perry’s best-selling 2016 novel, on which the series is based, you’ll enjoy gentle suspense in its six well-paced episodes. Is there a supernatural beast, or a living dinosaur, in the water? Will Cora and Will give in to their obvious attraction? And if not, will he default to the flirtatious and arrogant Dr. Garrett? And what about his attachment to his gruff socialist maid, Martha (Hayley Squires): is it platonic or something else?
For a series that wants to have their eel cake and eat it too, the essex snake it balances popular horror and romantic threads reasonably well, and that’s thanks to good scripts from Anna Symon, confident cinematic directing from Clio Barnard, and a solid ensemble of actors. Headlining his first series since Homeland Wrapped in 2020, Danes brings her talent for raw sentiment and palpable anxiety, adding to her portrayals of Temple Grandin and Carrie Mathison another extraordinary woman struggling against the constraints of her time. She has a simmering, playful chemistry with Hiddleston (although the thoughtful, witty dreamer would probably have chemistry with a piece of moss). Dillane adds vital humor and sass as the cocky doctor; and Squires buttresses a somewhat plodding subplot about improving housing for the poor.
The crux of the series involves the social and intellectual ties that intertwine between its two central characters. As a provincial priest, Will is humble and cultured, and although he is skeptical about the guarantees of scientists, he puts his faith in a rational and loving god. For his part, Cora believes in science, even if, in the 1890s, that requires a leap of faith. Amidst the philosophical discussions about whether the Church of England or Darwin is the surest path to rationalism and social order, the looming question remains: Is there really a monster in the water? Or is it just a metaphor for unknown things, in nature and the human heart?
Barnard and cinematographer David Raedeker bring 19th-century Aldwinter to life with a shifting palette of marshy grays and greens, a foggy, flooded area that’s half water, half land, with grim, grimy islanders skinning moles and hanging them from crossed branches. to ward off evil spirits. In this dank, humid realm, the very ground seems to slosh and stink of rotting fish. For a show with “snake” in the title, it won’t surprise you that S-shapes dominate the visual vocabulary: aerial shots of Essex waterways snaking around chunks of earth, Cora’s aforementioned scar, and even rivulets. of blood pumping from a heart as Dr. Garrett operates.
We hesitate to praise the show with a theater masterpiece etiquette, but there’s a little comfort of tea and biscuits in the essex snakes sincere patience and restraint. (Even a spontaneous fuck on the moors 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 snake past each other like inlets and islands. For those who need a break from Bridgertonthe burning glances The great‘s cynicism, try to get into this gothic tale humanely. The water is cold but refreshing.