“The Essex Serpent” on Apple TV+: an exceptional mini-series between romanticism and fanaticism

A month after launching an exceptional eight-episode miniseries with Elisabeth Moss, “Shining Girls”, Apple TV + does it again with another, equally remarkable and original, “The Essex Serpent”, this Friday, and this one does not includes only six parts. This is not their only differences: finished the modern thriller in the form of time travel, place in Victorian England of the late nineteenth century.

Adapted from the novel by Sarah Perry, the story takes place when a young woman and mother of a child, Cora (Claire Danes), becomes the widow of the wealthy bourgeois who has been torturing her for a long time. Freed from the weight of this violent husband, the Londoner, passionate about fossils, decides to settle temporarily in a coastal village of Essex renowned for its geological treasures, but also recently famous because a sea monster, which had made its home there. appearance two centuries earlier, would return and devour the local fishermen.

There, Cora, who has left a young surgeon, Luke (Frank Dillane), in love with her in London, will discover a village terrorized by religious beliefs, its inhabitants being convinced that the snake only takes away those who have sinned. or who consider themselves ready to die. The widow, who is learning to enjoy her newfound freedom, is quite ready to believe in the presence of the mythical animal, until she meets Will (Tom Hiddleston), a pastor loved by her community, a scholar who refuses to be carried away by the ambient hysteria. Unlike his wife, Stella (Clémence Poésy), convinced of the existence of the monster. Several events will make the situation worse: disappearances of villagers, Stella’s illness, Luke’s arrival on the spot…

The mechanism of religious influence

The series makes a strong impression by plunging its heroine, Cora, and with her the viewer, into the heart of a population of fishermen who will sink into bigoted fanaticism. We are witnessing a gradual shift of these simple people, living in difficult conditions, towards collective hysteria because of ancestral beliefs fueled by a pastor who supports where it hurts, their daily suffering. And this even if another pastor, Will, does everything to persuade them that a curse, embodied by a sea serpent, it is the case to say it, would be pure fantasy. A mechanism as frightening as remarkably described.

Although the episodes flirt with the fantastic, or tackle themes as diverse as poverty, the birth of modern surgery, religion or geology, it is a very Victorian romanticism that dominates the narrative through several stories that link the characters. Starting with the one between the two heroes, Cora and Will. She, a young freedom-loving widow, he, a married pastor respected by his community: everything seems to set them apart, but the mutual respect that surrounds their long discussions will turn into a passionate love story… and a bad start given the circumstances.

Because for her part, Cora is very close to this young surgeon who secretly loves her, while Will, if he is apparently in disagreement with his wife Stella about religion and the snake, will show, when she will fall ill, the power of his love for her… forever, beyond illness and death. And all of this turns out to be as tragic as it is heartbreaking.

Stunning Clémence Poésy

“The Essex Serpent” owes a lot to the quality of its interpretation by stars from other series. Claire Danes, heroine of “Homeland”, and Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki, Thor’s brother, in Marvel films and the series dedicated to this character, show themselves, in registers diametrically opposed to what they have played so far, copies retained.

But the one who impresses the most is our national Clémence Poésy. Gently, with muffled steps, she portrays with staggering accuracy this somewhat bigoted and very sick Stella who will take on more and more importance as the story progresses, until a finale where she touches on grace. A character that is not easy to play, which she makes extremely touching: great art.

Editor’s note:

The Essex Serpent », British mini-series by Anna Symon, with Claire Danes, Tom Hiddleston, Clémence Poésy, Frank Dillane… 1h48. 6 episodes of 60 minutes on Apple TV+.

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