Claire Danes, Tom Hiddleston Hunt a Mythical Sea Monster in ‘The Essex Serpent’

The first official “sighting” of Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster was all the way back in 1933 – and so 89 years of mythology, not to mention a profitable cottage industry, have been allowed to build up around something for which there is no actual definitive evidence. No surprise, really, since human beings have been proven time and again that they will simply believe what they wish to believe.

These days, instances of socio-political boogeymen run frequent, persistently egged on by the insidious propaganda machine that is social media. And upon viewing the first trailer for Apple TV+’s new six-episode series The Essex Serpent (based on the award-winning 2016 novel by Sarah Perry), it’s easy to detect an incisive metaphor for our times. In it, Claire Danes plays Cora Seaborne, a late 19th Century (it’s 1893, to be exact) London widow who travels to Essex, about 50-odd km east of the capital, to investigate reports of a mythical sea monster.

The clip opens with a young girl racing terrified across a foggy, marshy English landscape; and though we don’t see what actually happens, her ultimate fate is confirmed when her father afterwords remarks, “She was taken for her sins.” Tom Hiddleston, as village vicar Will Ransome, later insists with certainty to Danes’ Seaborne, “The serpent is…an invention. A symptom of the times we live in.”

She replies with typical big city superiority, “I’d rather believe in a creature that people have actually seen than an invisible God. Is that blasphemy?” It is blasphemy, surely, and when further tragedy strikes, she is ultimately blamed by the locals – with their righteous Victorian moral codes – who believe she has brought some manner of “curse” upon them.

Of course, women to this day are still wrongly publicly demonized, and in the case of the current abortion battle in America, religion yet plays a central and divisive role. So despite the chronology, there is a very relevant feminist statement being made about women as perpetually convenient scapegoats.

And, well, the promise of a even a brief glimpse of an imposing sea creature always makes for a good watch.

The first two episodes of The Essex Serpent, which also stars Clémence Poésy and Frank Dillane, will be available Friday, May 13 exclusively on Apple TV+.

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