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The Serpent on BBC1 - release date, cast, plot and everything you need to know

The Serpent
(Image credit: BBC/© Mammoth Screen/iStock)

The Serpent on BBC1 will bring 2021 in with a bang...

The Serpent on BBC1 promises to be one of the highlights of the Christmas TV schedule this year, bringing to life a remarkable serial killer story, inspired by real-life events.

Heading to our screens at New Year, The Serpent will see TV favourite Jenna Coleman leading the cast alongside renowned French actor Tahar Rahim.

Here is everything you need to know about the new series...

The Serpent on BBC1 release date - when will it air?

The eight-part series will premiere on BBC1 on New Year's Day at 9pm. Each of the eight episodes will be an hour long.

The Serpent

Former Emmerdale star, Jenna Coleman, will be playing Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Picture: BBC/Mammoth Screen) (Image credit: BBC/¬© Mammoth Screen)

MORE: Everything you need to know about the Call the Midwife Christmas special (opens in new tab)

What’s the plot of The Serpent?

The Serpent tells the astonishing true story of Charles Sobhraj, a serial killer (nicknamed The Serpent) who targeted Western travellers during the 70s and became one of Interpol’s most wanted men.

Psychopath, con man, thief and master of disguise, Charles Sobhraj was the chief suspect in the unsolved murders of up to 20 young Western travellers on the 'hippie trail' across India, Thailand and Nepal between 1975 and 1976.

The Serpent

Billy Howle and Ellie Bamber play Herman and Angela Knippenberg (Picture: BBC/Mammoth Screen) (Image credit: BBC/© Mammoth Screen)

One of the most elusive criminals of the 20th century, Charles Sobhraj repeatedly slipped from the grasp of authorities worldwide and by 1976 he had arrest warrants on three different continents.

When Herman Knippenberg, a junior diplomat at the Dutch Embassy in Bangkok, unwittingly walked into Sobhraj’s intricate web of crime, he set off an extraordinary chain of events that saw Knippenberg seek to bring Sobhraj to justice for his terrible crimes.

Who’s in the cast of The Serpent?

Award-winning French actor Tahar Rahim plays murderer Charles Sobhraj.

Emmerdale, Doctor Who and Victoria actress Jenna Coleman appears as his partner (and accomplice) Marie-Andrée Leclerc.

The Serpent

Real life crime drama The Serpent is coming to our screens on New year's Day (Picture: BBC/Mammoth Screen) (Image credit: BBC/Mammoth Screen)

Billy Howle plays Herman Knippenberg who fights to bring Sobhraj to justice, while Ellie Bamber plays his wife, Angela.

The Serpent also features Tim McInnerny, Alice Englert, Mathilde Warnier, and Gregoire Isvarine.

Also starring are Sahajak Boonthanakit, Fabien Frankel and Chicha Amatayakul.

Surasak Chaiyaat, Ruby Ashbourne-Serkis, Armand Rosbak, Ellie de Lange, Ilker Kaleli and screen newcomer Amesh Edireweera also play key roles.

Is there a trailer?

While there is no official trailer for The Serpent at the moment, the drama is featured in the BBC reel for new shows appearing in 2020.

What else do we know?

The Serpent, written by Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay and directed by Tom Shankland and Hans Herbots was filmed on location in Thailand.

The Serpent will start on New Year's Day on BBC1 at 9pm - see our TV Guide for more Christmas dramas not to be missed. 

Claire Crick
Claire Crick

Claire is Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch and has been a journalist for over 15 years, writing about everything from soaps and TV to beauty, entertainment, and even the Royal Family. After starting her career at a soap magazine, she ended up staying for 13 years, and over that time she’s pulled pints in the Rovers Return, sung karaoke in the Emmerdale village hall, taken a stroll around Albert Square, and visited Summer Bay Surf Club in sunny Australia. 

After learning some tricks of the trade at websites Digital Spy, Entertainment Daily, and Woman & Home, Claire landed a role at What’s On TV and writing about all things TV and film, with a particular love for Aussie soaps, Strictly Come Dancing and Bake Off

She’s interviewed everyone from June Brown — AKA Dot Cotton — to Michelle Keegan, swapped cooking tips with baking legend Mary Berry backstage at the NTAs, and danced the night away with soap stars at countless awards bashes. There’s not a lot she doesn’t know about soaps and TV and can be very handy when a soapy question comes up in a pub quiz! 

As well as all things soap-related, Claire also loves running, spa breaks, days out with her kids, and getting lost in a good book.