Review: 'The Essex Serpent' has much going for it but not enough story for its half-dozen episodes

Mark Meszoros, The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio) on

Published in Entertainment News

Cora has a not-so-pleasant first encounter with the village vicar, Will Ransome (Hiddleston). It’s clear from this meeting, however, that there’s a certain spark between these two.

And they regularly will be drawn to each other, despite the fact he’s happily married — to the mother of his two children, Stella (Clemence Poesy, who, like Dillane, is a veteran of the “Harry Potter” film series) — and despite him being a man of faith and Cora a woman of reason.

As the series progresses, Will must come to the defense of Cora, whom villagers begin to blame for the continued horrors plaguing the small, tight-knit community.

Her life is complicated by Luke, who quickly comes to visit and stay at her cottage, also the temporary home of her young son, Frankie (Caspar Griffiths), and her servant, Martha (Hayley Squires, “I, Daniel Blake”), a socialist who adores Cora but grows increasingly frustrated by her status and yearns for a more significant role in the world.

Cora’s general obliviousness to almost all feelings but her own may have made her more of a frustrating figure if not for the deft work of Danes, who manages to keep the character uniquely charming throughout the tale. Danes does not work all that often, but her work is always memorable.

Hiddleston has the less-challenging job, but the dependable actor — whose notable credits outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe include “Kong: Skull Island” and “The Night Manager” — also keeps Will within the realm of the sympathetic, even when he’s making what are perhaps not the best of choices.

And to Dillane’s credit, it’s not easy to know how we should feel about Luke, the show’s most complex character.

Like many limited series, “The Essex Tale” drags in its middle episodes, but things do pick up in the finale — after one very bad night for two of the primary characters in the series’ penultimate installment — with multiple story elements flowing together at the reasonably satisfying conclusion.

The charitable read on “The Essex Serpent” is that it has the sensibilities of both a novel and a British series, both of which tend to posses different rhythms than those of many American television productions.


And some viewers are sure to enjoy its generally slow pacing — and all that breathing the story is allowed to do — but others may find their attention drifting more than once.

Ultimately, a movie’s two-hour runtime may not have been enough to do justice to Perry’s award-winning second novel. Perhaps four episodes would have been the sweet spot.

Regardless, Symon, Barnard and company didn’t quite find it.



How to watch: First two episodes premiered Friday on Apple TV+, with subsequent episodes being released weekly.


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