Friday, 29 July 2022

The Essex Serpent (2022)

This is a mystery/drama/love story which centres around a widow from London who's passion is following up on the discoveries of Charles Darwin by trying to find and classify fossils in the landscape. There's a mystery brewing in Essex at the same time where it is alleged that there's a sea serpent lurking in the waters, bring bad luck and horror to a coastal community there who rely on fishing for their livelihood.

When she, her son and live-in maid arrive in Essex, she meets the local pastor who is at a crossroads in his life, questioning his faith and looking for something other than what he has. The locals are hugely religious and believe that this curse of the serpent, with which they are whipping each other up into a frenzy, is the devil sent to punish them. Er, for something. This part of it plays out a bit like a witch-hunt which our pastor hero tries hard to derail!

Anyway, back in London, Cara, the widow, meets a cocky young doctor who is the talk of the town, carrying out progressive surgery on patients and pushing the boundaries of medicine, when his bosses let him get away with his experimentation. This part of it plays out a bit like Frankenstein! He falls in love with Cara, the pastor falls in love with Cara, the doctor's side-kick falls in love with Cara's maid, who in turn is trying to change social housing for deprived people via the Socialist Party! A potential love-triangle in a love triangle! Keeping up?!

It's an interesting enough story to keep the attention for 6 episodes of about 50 minutes each, but it didn't need to be any longer - so good choice by Apple TV. The five main leads are excellent in their roles, especially Tom Hiddleston (The Night Manager, The Deep Blue Sea) as the pastor and Claire Danes (Homeland, The Hours, Romeo + Juliet) as Cora. Supporting confidently are Clémence Poésy (In Bruges, The Tunnel) playing the pastor's long-suffering wife Stella, Hayley Squires (In the Earth, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain) as Martha the maid and appropriately annoyingly, Frank Dillane (In the Heart of the Sea, How to Build a Girl) as the young doctor.

It plays out like something of a cross between a period drama, love story, soap opera and statement on the social times of the day, which I think is set in about turn of the century Victorian times. It's quite slow at times and relies on the excellent acting by the main players to keep it moving along. The sets are appropriate for time and place, social differences highlighted between the haves and have-nots at every turn and the deep-rooted suspicion people have for each other comes through aplenty.

There are some twists and turns, but this is not gripping viewing particularly. The cinematography is excellent however and it's worth a watch to focus in some the very well played out interactions between the leads. It's not quite Upstairs Downstairs - it feels a bit more 'liberated' than that, but you'll get that impression. Don't take out an AppleTV subscription to watch it, but do catch it when it comes along elsewhere. It would fit perfectly on BBC on Sunday evenings!

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