The Essex Serpent, penned by Sarah Perry, became a bestseller when the novel of the same name was published back in 2016 and explored a battle between science and faith in the late 19th century.
Now, a powerful six-part adaptation, airing on Apple TV Plus from Friday, May 13, The Essex Serpent follows recently widowed Londoner and amateur naturalist Cora Seaborne (Homeland star Claire Danes) who hears rumors about a strange snake-like creature spotted near the village of Aldwinter in Essex and heads there to investigate.
Cora and Aldwinter’s devoted vicar Will Ransome (Loki's Tom Hiddleston) engage in heated debates about whether the serpent is real or just a superstition. But when a death occurs on the marshes and the village is rocked by fear, Cora and Will become dangerously close…
What to Watch chatted to Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston to find out more about The Essex Serpent…
The Essex Serpent is so atmospheric! How do sightings of the serpent affect the village?
Tom Hiddleston: “Will sees the serpent as a childish imagining almost like monsters under the bed. But he is concerned that the rumours are creating anxiety, which will affect the mental wellbeing of the village. He's worried about the nightmarish prospect where suddenly they’re believing in monsters that he feels don't exist.”
Claire, Cora has just been widowed after a difficult marriage, do you think she sees Aldwinter as a new start?
Claire Danes: “Yes, suddenly Cora’s husband dies and she shoots to the surface. Cora was a stranger to herself, she hadn't had an opportunity to realise who she was whilst being held captive by this abusive relationship, but now she's able to learn that.”
How do you see the relationship between Cora and Will?
Tom Hiddleston: “Will’s open to the natural sciences and advances in evolution, but he is trying to tell Cora that despite her curiosity, the villagers need to be treated delicately because he doesn't want the situation to get out of hand. But the characters have so much internal conflict, doubt and challenge.”
Claire Danes: “On the surface, they contrast. But they realise quickly that they share more than they think. They're both deeply curious and find a partnership in each other. They have a natural intellectual chemistry. It takes them by surprise…”
The series looks at the conflict between science and faith in the 1890s, do you think there are parallels to the challenges we face today?
Claire Danes: “Yes, it’s hard not to see them. I wonder if that era was when we started to splinter, when there were all these amazing new insights and technologies and it was such a radical moment and destabilising. We're still grappling with these different belief systems.”
Tom Hiddleston: “Yes, maybe what this story suggests is that both reason and faith need each other. I found it fascinating because we’re still asking the big questions about where we derive meaning in our lives and we turn to both faith and reason for the answers.”
What was it like filming on the Essex marshes?
Tom Hiddleston: “I loved it! I was so grateful to spend time in a part of England that I didn't know well. It was windy, wet and muddy but very evocative and wild. The tide is so quick that we had to be careful we weren’t swept away. But I became the cliché of an Englishman constantly insisting that the weather will improve!”
Claire Danes: “But Tom would appear and the clouds would part! The weather was very changeable and occasionally brutal though. You should have seen my bathroom in my trailer because I had so many layers of petticoats that would drag the mud in!”
The Essex Serpent airs on Apple TV Plus from Friday, May 13 and begins with a double-bill.
Caren has been a journalist specializing in TV for almost two decades and is a Senior Features Writer for TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What’s On TV magazines and she also writes for What to Watch.
Over the years, she has spent many a day in a muddy field or an on-set catering bus chatting to numerous stars on location including the likes of Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Suranne Jones, Jamie Dornan, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi as well as Hollywood actors such as Glenn Close and Kiefer Sutherland.
Caren will happily sit down and watch any kind of telly (well, maybe not sci-fi!), but she particularly loves period dramas like Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown and she’s also a big fan of juicy crime thrillers from Line of Duty to Poirot.
In her spare time, Caren enjoys going to the cinema and theatre or curling up with a good book.
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