‘The Essex Serpent’ Review: Apple TV Sends Us Back In Time In This Fascinating Gothic Tale

The Essex Serpent

Gothic Horror is one of the most fascinating genres in media. The genre has been the birth cradle of some of the best creepy stories ever written. The Turn of the Screw, Jayne Eyre, are just some of those ghostly tales that have found their place in history and have resisted the test of time, reaching our time almost intact. The genre was really popular at some point though, but nowadays, it is more of a niche taste.

However, some authors still bet on this type of stories, and Gothic books are still being written and adaptations are still being made. Recently, for example, Guillermo del Toro took a shot at the genre with his beautiful, haunting film, Crimson Peak. The film didn’t make a splash at the box office or critically for that matter, but it made a declaration that there was still interest in this type of story.

The Haunting franchise at Netflix tried to do the same with Bly Manor, as the second installment following the more classic horror oriented, Hill House. Bly Manor’s reception was lukewarm. Some members of the audience swear that it is the best release made by the franchise, while others hated it. Gothic is certainly not an easy genre to explain or enjoy for that matter. It is all about the mood, and if the audience is not in that vibe, they might find the story boring and the characters empty.

The Essex Serpent

Apple TV has been having one hell of a year. There is no doubt that they have been releasing the best shows of the year. After Party, Severance, and Pachinko. They are all fine examples of what television can do when the producers are more concerned with the quality of the product they are offering. Instead of being preoccupied about how they can match the suggestions of the all powerful algorithm. So, against all odds, Apple TV bets on a Gothic Horror tale to bring audiences to the streaming services and keep them there for at least a couple of weeks.

The Essex Serpent is a Gothic Horror TV show based on the novel by the same name written by Sarah Perry. The show is directed by Clio Barnard, who also serves as executive producer, and stars Claire Danes, Tom Hiddleston, and Clémence Poésy. The series tells the story of Cora Seaborne, a recent widow with a passion for natural history. When Cora learns about the appearance of a giant serpent in Essex, the widow goes there to find out more. What she finds is a town drowned in superstition and a Serpent that might not be the dinosaur she is looking for.

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Like many other stories of the genre, The Essex Serpent begins with a mystery, in this case two of them. One is the overall mystery of the serpent, the devil in the garden of Eden. Essex is a downer of an area, it is gray and sad, and the inhabitants in the area are losing hope with each passing day. The disappearance of Gracie, one of the town’s daughters, only helps to increase the tension around the town. What is this serpent? Is it really an animal? An old species still roaming the world, or does the serpent have origins more into the supernatural?

The mystery of the serpent serves to propel the plot and the stories of the characters. Claire Danes does an amazing job, as always. This time she plays Cora Seaborne, a name that brings with it all kinds of connotations, including some connection with the universe of Lovecraft. If the series starts going into that direction, only time will tell. Nevertheless, it would be a welcome angle for the show as there are so few out there that dare to touch Lovecraft’s tone, and sense of the fantastic, and even fewer who manage to execute those ideas properly.

The Essex Serpent

Danes is an amazing actress and with Cora she brings the second big mystery of the show, Cora herself. We see glimpses of a terrible past, but not much else. Of course, we will learn more about her as the series progresses, but so far, she serves as a gracious protagonist, someone worth following on her journey.

Meanwhile, Tom Hiddleston is the other big name actor on the show. Hiddleston brings with him the charm and elegance that he always brings to each one of his roles. It is, of course, strange to see him outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it makes us glad, because as an actor Hiddleston is so much more than just Loki. He will always be remembered lovingly for that role, but it is nice to see him spread his wings with something else.

The production values are outstanding. The sets really make you feel as if we have gone back in time to the Victorian era. For anyone who is a history buff, it will be an amazing show to follow. The costumes are also of astounding quality. The production has really done its job when it comes to bring this world to life. The cinematography creates a great atmosphere, one that is overbearing and sad, but that is what the show needs.

The Essex Serpent is a fascinating mystery, filled with great actors, delivering great performances, and it is a world that is worth visiting, as the genre of Gothic Horror only comes every once in a while. If you have even a sense that you might like this series. Give it a try, it might surprise you.

SCORE: 8/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.