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The Essex Serpent

I was hesitant to watch this. What I’d read about it made the story seem contrived. A sea monster? Really? Was it a bodice-ripper? If so, that’s not my genre. I also knew that the story was set in the flats and fens and swamps of southeastern England — a part of England you probably want to visit only if you’ve already been everywhere else or if you need to catch a ferry to the Hook of Holland. But I love well done period pieces, and I trusted Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston not to sign up for a weak project. The series is based on a novel by Sarah Perry.

Four episodes in (there are six episodes), I still had my doubts. Much of the dialogue is a bit unpolished and ragged around the edges. Sometimes the dramatic logic seems a little off, with what the characters say and do not always making sense. I frequently wondered whether it was going to be possible to like (and therefore to care about) Claire Danes’ and Tom Hiddleston’s characters. Two of the best characters, really, are supporting cast — Clémence Poésy as Stella and Caspar Griffiths as Frankie, an 1893 example of a boy we would today classify as autistic. The writer, I was afraid, didn’t have full control of the story. But by the last episode, the writer had dotted all the i’s, crossed all the t’s, and stitched the plot into a complete and complex Gothic embroidery.

“The Essex Serpent” can be streamed on Apple TV+.

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