The snake of Essex, the review: Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston romantic heroes torn between faith and reason

The review of The Snake of Essex, a limited series directed by Clio Barnard and starring Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston, available on Apple Tv +.

The Essex Snake: Tom Hiddleston and Claire Danes in one scene

The charm of the nineteenth-century English heath combined with that of its interpreters invites us to the vision of the new miniseries Apple TV +as ours anticipates review of The Essex Snake. The show set in gloomy Victorian England, available in streaming from today 13 May, is actually inspired by a contemporary novel by writer and journalist Sarah Perry, originally from Essex. Perry harnessed a local legend by building around it a gothic novel / love story tinged with humor that contains in-depth reflections on women’s emancipation, political militancy and the spread of socialist ideas.

The Essex Serpent Claire Danes Tom Hiddleston

The Essex Snake: Tom Hiddleston and Claire Danes in one scene

This variety of themes flows into the miniseries that bears the signature of Ali & Ava director Clio Barnard. Claire Danes plays Cora Seaborne, a wealthy London widow who, after burying her abusive husband, is finally free and in control of herself. Passionate naturalist, Cora goes to Essex to hunt for fossils with her 12-year-old son and friend Martha until, learning the story of a monstrous water snake that has appeared in the region, claiming victims, she decides to investigate the case with the complicity of vicar Will Ransone (Tom Hiddleston). Along with Cora and Martha, surgeon Luke Garrett (Frank Dillane), who is in love with Cora, and colleague Spencer who has set his sights on Martha also arrive in Essex. A series of incidents and the distrust of the locals will interrupt the group’s stay, which will push Cora to return to London.

From gothic horror to love story, the turning point in the genre

The Essex Serpent Claire Danes

The Essex Snake: An Image by Claire Danes

Condensing a rather rich literary material, The Serpent of Essex does its best to create a product that follows the original narrative structure while nurturing an autonomous visual mythology. An example is the suggestive underwater sequence at the beginning, with the camera that accompanies us in the murky bottoms of the Blackwater river and then goes up along the marshy banks where two sisters perform a strange ritual before a mysterious creature manifests itself in the water attacking one of the two. girls. This perfect gothic incipit, accompanied by the elegant opening titles of the series, all played on stylized naturalistic iconographies as sinuous as the coils of a snake, creates precise expectations in the viewer. The mist that rises from the barren countryside enveloping meadows, bushes and human bodies recalls the descriptions of the places of The Hound of the Baskervilles and a lot of English literature of the time.

The Essex Serpent Tom Hiddleston

The snake of Essex: Tom Hiddleston in one scene

With her elegant and mysterious style, director Clio Barnard creates a very specific stylistic code for Essex, which contrasts with the much more crowded and lively Victorian London. If in the first part of The Serpent of Essex the dark atmospheres and mysteries dominate the plot, instilling a sense of imminent apocalypse, the miniseries changes mood in the second part, veering towards more sentimental tones. Cora finds herself, in fact, at the center of a double amorous tension: on the one hand she is the subject of the unbridled court of Doctor Garrett, cynical and self-confident, on the other she is attracted by the taciturn vicar Ransome who however is married to the sweet Stella ( Clémence Poésy). This ballet of feelings is underlined by intense close-ups and comparisons between the characters more worthy of Jane Austen than of a gothic horror and since the heart cannot be controlled, when the feelings become predominant the story of the snake ends up in the background making the series a bit of its initial charm.

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Fascinating protagonists and unanswered questions

The Essex Serpent Tom Hiddleston

The Essex Snake: A Close-up of Tom Hiddleston

Despite a few too many concessions to romance, Clio Barnard knows how to make characters intriguing. After the dramatic excesses of Homeland, Claire Danes faces a lighter and more worldly character, a sunny and nonconformist woman who snubs the conventions of the time and has a lot to do with Jane Austen’s heroines. Rational, curious and thirsty for knowledge, her Cora will have to face the superstition that hovers in the village of Essex and the deep faith of Vicar Ransome, two sides of the same coin that do not seem to touch her much. As for Tom Hiddleston, he doesn’t have to try hard to step into the shoes of Will Ransome, a character who seems to have been written especially for him. Devoted, courageous, generous, yet cautious and aggressive when it comes to defending his universe, Will Ransome is a romantic hero a la Mr. Darcy and hides tender feelings behind protective armor.

The Essex Serpent Claire Danes Tom Hiddleston Kiss

The Essex Snake: Tom Hiddleston and Claire Danes kiss

The good looks of the protagonists, the charm of the British locations, the costumes, the details, all contribute to favoring the spectator’s immersion in the universe of The Serpent of Essex. Large sections of the six episodes that make up the show are also dedicated to showing the medical advances of the time thanks to the figure of Luke Garrett and these sections have a lot in common with The Knick series. The different environments provide a multifaceted vision of the era in which Cora is immersed, showing her vitality and rapid evolution. There is a lot of meat in the fire, but the impression is that six episodes are not enough to embrace everything that Clio Barnard would like to show. Thus some aspects of the story, such as Martha’s socialist militancy and Cora’s dramatic past, are barely hinted at. Despite the careful work on the script, at the end of the series, the series leaves us with the impression that the lack of space has prompted the authors to barely mention themes we would like to know more about starting from the Essex snake itself, liquidated with an unconvincing solution after so much hype.


Our review of The Serpent of Essex reveals the dual nature of the show directed by Clio Barnard which, after an atmospheric departure in a gothic horror key, arrives in romantic tones. The elegance of the direction, the charm of the settings and the variety of characters, led by the couple formed by Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston, presents many reasons of interest even if not all themes find the space for the necessary in-depth study.

Because we like it

  • Undeniable charm and charisma for the couple formed by Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston.
  • The elegance of the direction and the historical reconstruction enhance the locations.
  • The spectacular incipit plunges us into a gothic horror atmosphere, fueling the mystery about the snake …

What’s wrong

  • … but this plot, as the series progresses, ends up a bit on the sidelines, leaving some unresolved questions.
  • The wealth of themes and characters would require an even longer series to deepen every aspect.

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