For iDevice-wielding fans of period drama, Friday May 13 was an important date, as it saw the release of the first two episodes of the six-part Apple TV+ series, The Essex Serpent.
Based on British author Sarah Perry’s 2016 novel of the same name, and featuring the acting talents of Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston, this show – telling the story of Victorian-era London widow Cora Seaborne (Danes)’s move to the English county of Essex to investigate reports of a mystical serpent – would seem to have many of the right ingredients.
But what was the professional critics’ take on this latest Apple Original? The short answer is that it was a positive one in many quarters, although it was also acknowledged that The Essex Serpent wasn’t always what initially met the eye.
Or, to put it in the words of The Hollywood Reporter’s Angie Han: “Like the possibly mystical creature of its title, The Essex Serpent is something of a slippery beast. It winds through ideas and genres, twisting and turning in ways that can be difficult to predict, and wiggles free of tidy categorizations or explanations. It’s a story about a sea creature, sort of, but it’s primarily a story about faith and progress and love and maybe half a dozen other things.”
She continued that the series “works beautifully as a drama about complicated characters tangled in relationships unable to be contained by the conventional boundaries of romance or friendship, and about the ways humans will try to impose order or sense where none can be found.”
And Carly Lane, for Collider, touched on similar themes of inner complexity and relationships in her A-graded review, musing that The Essex Serpent deals in “what we uncover by searching within ourselves, and by allowing those we love to really see what we were once willing to leave buried deep beneath the surface.”
As for The Verge, the site declared that The Essex Serpent was a case of “come for the outfits, stay for the chaos”, with its senior entertainment editor, Andrew Webster, stating that “the six-episode series offers a lot more than great hair blowing in the wind – it’s a tense and heartfelt exploration of grief and belief and how much those two things can mess with you. The great sweaters are just a bonus.”
He went on to describe the show as being about “the beautiful chaos that comes from conflict, whether that’s between science and faith, love and hate, or putting a bunch of pretty people in a grim and depressing little town. In that way, the cozy sweater is a metaphor for The Essex Serpent as a whole: its drab and well-worn exterior hides something much more intriguing underneath.”
If you have an Apple TV+ subscription and all the above has got you keen to uncover the mysteries of the Serpent for yourself, you will be pleased to know that the first two episodes are available to watch on the service right now, and further instalments will be released every Friday over the weeks leading up to June 10.