‘The Serpent’ starring Tahar Rahim and Jenna Coleman on BBC1 and Netflix: Our essential guide to the 1970s serial killer drama

Tahar Rahim and Jenna Coleman star in "The Serpent."
Tahar Rahim and Jenna Coleman star in "The Serpent." (Image credit: BBC)

The Serpent is an eagerly-anticipated drama coming soon to BBC1 in Britain and on Netflix internationally. It sees The Looming Tower star Tahar Rahim play infamous murderer Charles Sobhraj. 

Inspired by real events, the eight-part series tells the remarkable story of how Sobhraj was eventually captured. As the chief suspect in unsolved murders of young Western travelers across India, Thailand and Nepal’s ‘Hippie Trail’ in 1975 and 1976, Sobhraj had repeatedly slipped from the grasp of authorities worldwide to become Interpol's most wanted man, with arrest warrants on three different continents. He was finally caught and put on trial in 1976.

What’s the story behind ‘The Serpent’?

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.

Billy Howle and Ellie Bamber star as Herman and Angela Knippenberg

Billy Howle and Ellie Bamber star as Herman and Angela Knippenberg in "The Serpent." (Image credit: BBC)

Who is Tahar Rahim?

The French actor of Algerian descent who plays Sobhraj rose to prominence and won critical acclaim for his leading role in award-winning 2009 film A Prophet.

More recently Tahar starred as FBI Agent Ali Soufan in The Looming Tower and alongside Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix as Judas in the movie Mary Magdalene.

Tahar Rahim rose to prominence in 2009 film "A Prophet."

Tahar Rahim rose to prominence in 2009 film "A Prophet." (Image credit: Getty Images)

Who was the real Charles Sobhraj?

The serial killer who murdered up to 20 young Western travelers across India, Thailand and Nepal became known as The Serpent due to his skills at deception and evasion, but also was labelled "The Bikini Killer," due to the attire of his young female victims.

He was convicted and jailed in India from 1976 to 1997. After his release, he retired and lived as a celebrity in Paris, before returning to Nepal in 2003, where he was arrested, tried and received a life sentence.

He was described as devilishly handsome and did not refrain from using his attractiveness to help commit his heinous crimes and was also known for his cunning and cultured personality.

Who else stars in ‘The Serpent’?

Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who, Victoria) plays Sobhraj’s partner Marie-Andrée Leclerc, while Billy Howle (Dunkirk, MotherFatherSon) and Ellie Bamber (The Trial of Christine Keeler) play Herman and Angela Knippenberg. The Serpent also features Tim McInnerny, best known for Blackadder, and the hit movie Notting Hill.

Is there a trailer for 'The Serpent' yet?

There isn’t a full trailer for The Serpent available yet, but you can see a few clips in this BBC sizzle reel.

When does The Serpent begin on BBC1?

The Serpent will begin in on BBC1 at 9pm on New Year's Day and be available on Netflix soon afterwards. 

When will 'The Serpent' be shown?

A release date hasn't yet been given for The Serpent on either BBC1 or Netflix, but rumors are it will be some time in early 2021. All episodes should also be available on BBCiplayer.

Sean Marland

Sean is a Senior Feature writer for TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week, who also writes for whattowatch.com. He's been covering the world of TV for over 15 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are I'm Alan Partridge, The Wire, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.