In the middle of 2022 it is difficult to resist the obvious and deny that we are immersed in a streaming age that, almost as if it were that of the brick, we could describe as a bubble. Major platforms vying for the biggest slice of the pie are opting for produce massive amounts of content —in my opinion, with a more lax filter than desirable— with which to swell their catalogs in exchange for suffering notorious ups and downs in quality.
But, in the midst of a trend that seems to bet on quantity as the key to commercial success, Apple TV + continues to rise as the Rare avis of the VOD, dosing its releases almost dropper and making sure that its wardrobe, despite being reduced compared to the rest, treasures production values above the average both in the audiovisual and in the narrative and conceptual.
Now, after launches as powerful as ‘Las Luminas’, ‘The Shrink Next Door’ or the marvelous ‘Pachinko’, the platform is falling in love again with ‘The Essex Serpent’; an adaptation of the novel by Sarah Perry starring Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston that, hybridizing genres in an almost impossible way, condenses into little more than five hours an exciting journey to the darkest and most remote places of faith, superstition and passion.
‘The Essex Serpent’ could be used as a clear and impeccable example that, above any other formal or dramatic element, what truly elevates a production and its ability to shock and move, is the treatment of its characters and the evolutionary arcs that transform them throughout the plot. And it is that the assortment of protagonists, tormented and broken in their own way, and their search for spiritual healing is, to say the least, exciting.
Both the main duo made up of Will Ransome and Cora Seaborn from Hiddleston and Danes —both tremendous performances— and their tense contrast between faith and science, as well as the exquisite supporting cast in which Stella from Clémence Poésy and Luke from Frank Dillane, are drawn on paper with great complexity and transferred to the small screen with a viscerality and intensity that serve as the engine of a story, in itself, truly absorbing.
This force is also represented in a tone that performs an authentic tightrope walking exercise while successfully combining nineteenth-century romance, thriller with hints of folk-horror and cults in between and existentialist drama. A cocktail that adds layers to the refined narration and that helps to deepen its dense discursive webwhich covers topics ranging from the eternal battle between faith, superstition, science and reason to political and feminist questions.
Perhaps the best thing, not only in his way of managing his thesis, but in the entire miniseries, is the subtlety that prevails in its execution. The libretto by Anna Symon and the impeccable staging by Clio Barnard they embrace subtext and detail over obviousness and fat brushworkturning viewing into a tremendously satisfying experience in which each look and each contained gesture transmit more than any line of dialogue.
Rounding off what has been exposed so far, ‘The Essex Serpent’ exhibits an exquisite formal treatmentwhich applies from its production design to the cinematography of David Raedeker, which captures the disturbing foggy atmosphere of the British coast without giving up the most beautiful and bucolic passages or the glamor of 19th century London. A delight for the retinas.
It may be that ‘The Essex Serpent’ does not finish curdling among the public that you prefer more direct, concise products that balance the whole with a dose of punctual lightness; but whoever is not afraid to indulge in its many pleasures, will find in it another small work of art with which a dream catalog continues to be outlined in times when “more” continues to be confused with “better”.