Type keyword(s) to search

Recommended: The Essex Serpent on Apple TV+

Claire Danes and Tom Hilddleston sizzle in the streamer's beguiling new costume drama.
  • Tom Hilddleston and Claire Danes in The Essex Serpent (Photo: Apple TV+)
    Subscribe to Primetimer's Recommended newsletter and get our guide to the very best series, movies and specials in your inbox every Friday.
    The Essex Serpent Season 1 | Apple TV+
    Period Suspense Drama (6 Episodes) | TV-14

    What's The Essex Serpent About?

    A recently widowed woman sparks both religious and scientific fervor when she arrives in a Victorian English town to investigate the existence of a sea monster.

    Who's involved?

    • Claire Danes stars as Cora Seaborne, whose study of the natural world makes her believe a massive serpent really could be living in the waters near the town of Aldwinter.
    • Local pastor Will Ransome is played by Tom Hilddleston. He's skeptical about the monster, and wants his community to overcome the superstitions that are starting to drive them mad. He's attracted to Cora's unommon forthrightness, though his feelings may be getting risky.
    • Frank Dillane (Fear the Walking Dead) plays Dr. Luke Garrett, whose drive to perform the first open heart surgery mixes faith and science just like Cora's pursuit of the creature. He's a friend of Cora's, but now that she's widowed, he's got romantic notions, too.
    • Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake) is Cora's dear friend Martha. She not only helps care for Cora's son, but also fights on behalf of socialist causes.
    • Michael Jibson is Matthew Evansford, the local schoolmaster and a prominent church leader. Evansford is repulsed by Cora's ideas about the creature, which hebelieves are heretical. He's also convinced that she has invited a type of demonic possession to overtake the minds of the local children.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    In an era of relentless cliffhangers, The Essex Serpent immediately stands out as a series that prefers the seductive power of mystery over the blunt force of plot twists.

    We know that something strange is happening in Aldwinter: There are girls casting spells in the marsh, a body appearing in the grass, and a whole group of schoolchildren convulsing in their classroom. The titular serpent is being blamed, along with the devil that surely created it. But much like Arthur Miller's The Crucible, which is set during the Salem witch trials, this show is more interested in how unexplained events make people behave than in neatly explaining what's going on.

    Scenes are frequently ambiguous, so that we don't quite know if the school kids are convincing themselves they're possessed or if they're actually beset by spirits. We see an ominous shadow move under a fishing boat, but we have to decide for ourselves if it's a monster. There's even a scene where Cora and Will see a mirage on the water, excitedly pinpoint the scienftic cause, then see something equally inexplicable just a few scenes later. All ground is shaky, we're told. All certainty is suspect.

    That thesis extends to relationships, too. While she tries to navigate her feelings for both Will and Dr. Garrett, Cora is haunted by thoughts of her late, abusive husband. Every moment with the fellows might be unsettled by her frightful past, but on the other hand, every terrible memory might be soothed by some aspect of her friendship with these men. Similarly, Will might feel solid in his religious faith, only to be thrown by Cora's scientific reasoning or Evansford's frothing intolerance. Then again, his steadiness might be the only thing that can keep the town from spinning into hysteria.

    These contradictions give the intimate scenes between individuals as much charge as the moments when the entire town is running from the creature in the water. And there's an extra jolt every time Danes and Hiddleston share the screen. They've got enough chemistry to melt an iceberg, and the show knows exactly how to tease us with the possibility of forbidden passion.

    Pairs well with

    • Midnight Mass (Netflix), another series that fuses suspense, religion, and the promise of supernatural events.
    • Gentleman Jack (HBO), another sexy costume drama about a bold woman who breaks social taboos.
    • Dickinson (Apple TV+), a costume comedy that asks questions about life, the universe, and everything.

  • The Essex Serpent (Season 1)
    Two episodes premiere on Apple TV+ May 13, 2022. New episodes Fridays through June 10.
    Starring: Claire Danes, Tom Hiddleston, Frank Dillane, Hayley Squires, Clemence Poésy, Michael Jibson, and Jamael Westman.
    Directed by: Clio Barnard.

    TOPICS: The Essex Serpent, Apple TV+, Claire Danes, Clemence Poésy, Clio Barnard, Frank Dillane, Hayley Squires, Jamael Westman, Michael Jibson, Tom Hiddleston