Over the last two nights I’ve slogged through seven episodes of The Serpent, a limited BBC One / Netflix series about notorious serial killer Charles Sobhraj, who murdered between 20 and 24 young tourists during 1975–1976.
Directed by Tom Shankland and Hans Herbots and co-written by Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay, it’s an annoying, patience-testing, spirit-draining ordeal… it plods along and never ends. It’s an uphill hike.
Tahar Rahim plays Sobhraj, an ice-cold sociopath whose opaque company I immediately didn’t care for. (He lacks that mesmerizing Hannibal Lecter magnetism.) A friend had recommended that I watch this thing, and within the first 20 minutes I was texting him with remarks like “I have to hang out with this asshole for seven more episodes? I’m really not digging this.”
I instantly disliked the whole damn package, although I did find the Asian settings alluring. The show was mostly filmed in Bangkok and Hua Hin, a resort town in Thailand’s Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. At the very least I came away with a fuller appreciation for the look, sounds, aromas and textures of Thailand. That was nice.
Otherwise I felt bruised by the flat, clunky dialogue and particularly by the endless flashbacks and the way it just goes on and on and on. (It should have been a four- or six-hour series.)
The fact that nearly every character was constantly smoking cigarettes drove me nuts.
I was driven up the wall by Jenna Coleman‘s glassy-eyed, impossible-to-read performance as Marie-Andrée Leclerc, who was Sobhraj’s partner and accomplice. (Her final scenes in episode #8 are her best.). Dutch diplomatic staffer Herman Knippenberg, the guy who investigated and hunted down Sobhraj, is played by Billy Howle with the fakest-sounding Dutch accent in the history of filmed drama. I despised Amesh Edireweera‘s performance as Ajay Chowdhury, who was Sobhraj’s sleazy, bushy-haired errand boy.
The only costars I could stand were Ellie Bamber as Knippenberg’s wife Angela, and Tim McInnerny as a Graham Greene-ish Bangkok character named Paul Siemons.