REVIEW – Adapted from the bestseller of the same name, The Essex Serpent offers a new opportunity to stage Victorian England through a great woman’s destiny. From this Friday, May 13, 2022 on Apple TV+.
Of Sharp Objects to The Queen’s Gambit Passing by captive Where The Haunting of Hill House , the audiovisual world, particularly the platforms, eagerly watches for every literary release likely to please, so as to recover the rights. At the top of the most popular works, biopics, “costume drama”, historical stories, romantic “dramedies”, fictions questioning the power of beliefs, religious excesses, and, more broadly, all the productions carried by large-scale female characters, who are so many opportunities to evoke the place of women in ancient and contemporary societies, or even to establish bridges between the two. The mini-series, The Serpent Essex, meets all these criteria. It is adapted from the eponymous novel published in 2016 by the specialist in Gothic literature, Sarah Perry, of which it was the second book and the second success.
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The author grew up in the countryside, away from the vulgar excesses of the modern world, in an inflexible and observant Baptist family. Another form of straitjacket. His work is imbued with it. The six-episode mini-series by Anna Symon and Clio Barnard also for Apple TV+. It starts with the disappearance of a woman in the coastal marshes of Essex County and follows the research of Cora Seaborne (Claire Danes) on the origins of a legend born in the 17th century around a monstrous creature. haunting the region and sowing death in its path. The story takes place in Victorian England. Cora, just freed from an abusive husband, is thirsty for knowledge and emancipation. A position that is all the more difficult to maintain since she does not hide her atheism and refuses to submit to the restrictive ritual of widowhood.
And a role that is all the more difficult to take on as the character appears in almost every shot and appeals to a rare palette of emotions, between natural dignity, social corseting and impossible passions. Keira Knightley was considered for the role. Claire Danes replaced her on the spot for family agenda issues. The actress obviously did not completely free herself from the gimmick invented for her Carrie Mathison of Homeland but gives the change, supported by an exceptional cast, including Tom Hiddleston (he plays the Reverend Will Ransome), Clémence Poésy (perfect in the skin of his wife, Stella), and Franck Dillane (the skeptic and surgeon). The story is fluid and dense. The staging is masterful. Framing, lights, costumes, exterior and interior decor… not an image that does not evoke a painting by Constable or the chapter of a novel by the Brontë sisters. A new proof that the English, masters since the 1970s in the art of reconstruction, have lost none of their art.