Alice Oscura, Featured Writer
Plot: A recently widowed amateur naturalist decides to use her newfound freedom to explore claims of a mythical serpent-like creature in a remote fishing village located in Essex, England.
Warning: Moderate Spoilers Ahead
Review: Based on the 2016 award-winning novel of the same name and written by English author Sarah Perry, the limited mini-series premiered in May on Apple TV+. Being a big fan of British Gothic romances, this one was right up my alley. Plus, it’s got Loki in it. What more could you want? The story is a slow burn that’s anything but your run-of-the-mill period drama. In these six hour-long episodes the audience will enjoy a story about religion versus scientific progress set in 19th-century Victorian England. It’s also about the kind of love that brings the loyalty of friendship versus something much deeper.
It follows the story of newly widowed Cora Seaborne (Claire Danes). Cora suffers from PTSD directly related to the abuse that she suffered at the hands of her late husband, Michael Seaborne, a rich Londoner. Martha (Hayley Squires), her best friend and housemaid, frequently consoles her during her bouts of depression. Martha is also an avid socialist who is dedicated to campaigning for better social housing in the London slums. Cora meets and immediately forms a friendly bond with an ambitious young doctor named Luke Garrett (Frank Dillane), whom she consults on the day of her husband’s death. Cora soon hears reports of a serpent-like creature terrorising a small fishing village in Essex called Aldwinter. Being an amateur naturalist and an avid fossil collector she decides to temporarily move to Aldwinter with Martha and Frankie in tow to investigate the mythical creature and perhaps collect proof that it may be a living fossil—an animal that has escaped evolution.
Upon her arrival in Aldwinter, she meets an abrasive vicar named William Ransome (Tom Hiddleston). Even though he’s happily married to Stella (Clémence Poésy) with two children sparks begin to ignite between Cora and Will. However, a little love triangle ensues because Dr Garrett is hopelessly in love with the widow. Despite the best of intentions, however, the folks of Aldwinter are suspicious and unwelcoming of Cora’s investigative methods as they give in to their crippling fears that reek of superstition. The true mystery seems to be whether or not the serpent is a real creature or if it is just a manifestation of guilt felt by the sinful residents. It is almost like the mythical creature is an allegory for the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. This brings me to my next topic explored in the series, that of male skepticism regarding females that have taken the time to self-educate themselves in an otherwise male-dominated Victorian society.
American actress Claire Danes gave a magnificent, award-worthy performance as Cora Seaborne. Cora is an extremely fractured character, and she does things that are going to make the audience both love and dislike her at the same time. She can come across as selfish at certain times, but, upon further analysis, you will see that it is all to protect herself from being hurt. Her character did not have a happy marriage at all, so obviously she is not just going to fall into the arms of another man right away. She needs to heal herself first before she can open herself up to any possibilities in the love department. So instead, Cora throws herself into her passion, the study of fossils.
Tom Hiddleston as Aldwinter’s loyal vicar, William Ransome, can come across as a bit frigid at times, but I believe that his performance was well presented. As he tries to calm the growing fears of the community the deaths of a teenage girl and a non-church-going farmer only make things worse. Superstitions give way to old pagan rituals to appease the serpent. He becomes increasingly conflicted between his religious beliefs and his increasing feelings for Cora. Now, mind you, Will is not a bad husband or father; he’s devoted on both counts. Life just happens, and sometimes fate just has a different course.
Other noteworthy performances include Frank Dillane as Dr Luke Garrett, who is determined to be the driving force in pioneering the world’s first open heart surgery. He drinks heavily and is a narcissist, especially when it comes to the medical field. But the character begins a slow descent when his love for Cora is not reciprocated in the manner that he wishes. There is also actress Clémence Poésy’s portrayal of Will’s wife, Stella. Poésy’s screen presence is utterly strong for her supporting role. She commands the audience’s attention whenever she has a scene. When Stella faces the ultimate challenge, she does it with dignity and poise worthy of more than just a quick mention.
The seaside landscape and costume design will capture the audience, especially if you happen to be a big fan of the era. The color palette for the wardrobes is rich and pleasing to the eyes. The stark contrast between Cora’s London residence and the cottage should be noted, as the character looks more at home in simpler surroundings, rather than being surrounded by her deceased husband’s hypocritical gifts that only serve as a reminder to her of his abusive behavior.
The Essex Serpent does an incredible job of taking a successful novel and packing so much into just six episodes. The series is extremely intriguing and is full of twists that you won’t see coming unless you’ve read the book, of course. It would be interesting to see a series based on an award-winning novel take home some awards of its own because it was so good. So, pour yourself a nice glass of wine and check out this binge-worthy mini-series.
Score: 7.5 out of 10
Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump. I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. Read More
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