What is it about ?
The story of con artist Charles Sobhraj and the remarkable attempts of Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg to bring him to justice. Passing himself off as a trader in precious stones, Charles Sobhraj and his partner Marie-Andrée Leclerc traveled through Thailand, Nepal and India between 1975 and 1976, committing a series of crimes on the “Hippie Trail” in their path. Asian.
Who is it with?
Between drama, thriller and biopic, The Serpent is a British series commissioned by the BBC. To hold the title role, the producers have set their sights on Tahar Rahim. The French actor is familiar with international productions. We could see it recently in The Looming Tower or Panthers. And here he is almost unrecognizable.
At his side, Jenna Coleman – famous for her roles in Doctor Who and Victoria – plays Marie-Andrée Leclerc, the companion of Charles Sobhraj, as accomplice as submissive. Faced with this deadly tandem, the British Billy Howle (Rey’s father in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) plays Herman Knippenberg, the Dutch diplomat who did everything to put an end to the couple’s hellish run.
Finally, Mathilde Warnier, who has been seen before in Au service de la France, plays the role of a Frenchwoman, neighbor and friend of Charles and Marie-Andrée who live in a residence under a false identity.
What is it worth?
Clinging as closely as possible to the reality of the facts, Le Serpent impresses quickly. The realism benefits from a shooting carried out partly in situ in Thailand, India and Nepal. The dampness and the overwhelming heat are palpable. Above all, we quickly realize that this is something other than yet another thriller about a serial killer.
The Serpent paints a picture not as glamorous as it seems of the 1970s and of life in Asia at that time. Young backpackers who set off on the famous “Hippie Trail” are breaking with Western consumer society.
This is illustrated by the frequent use of drugs for recreational purposes but which look like headlongs. The series shows vulnerable young people, in search of meaning, between drugs and religion, in a society that begins to decline without even realizing it.
The very careful production, by Tom Shankland in the first four episodes and Hans Herbots the following four, plays perfectly with the codes of the thriller of the 1970s. The zooms from a balcony on the expression of a character installed on the edge of a swimming pool, the grain of the image, the substances discreetly poured into a glass by Charles who casts a sidelong glance at his victim… everything recalls the spy films that made us throb 50 years earlier.
If Charles Sobhraj has been nicknamed the Serpent, it is for his incredible ability to slip through the cracks and evade the police. But the series also shows how flirtatious he is and manages to hypnotize his victims, just like Kaa, the serpent in The Jungle Book. When poor brethren cross his path, Charles immediately identifies their weaknesses and expectations. They seek adventure, freedom, novelty, self-discovery. And Charles gives them the illusion of fulfilling all their desires.
In the shoes of the killer, Tahar Rahim is terrifying. At first attractive at first glance, it then reveals the dark side of the character. A glance, a simple change of attitude is enough to sound the alarm. The calm voice, the fluid movements, the muscular body… he has everything of the formidable predator who deceives his prey by playing with his finery.
At his side, Marie-Andrée operates a kind of moult. Jenna Coleman shows the slow evolution of the character with all its ambiguities and contradictions. At first shy and badly in her skin, she gains in confidence. Then, when she realizes the actions of her companion, she ends up crossing the point of no return.
The Serpent captivates by the energy of his story which never ceases to go back and forth on the chronology of the story. If one feels lost at the start, it is for the benefit of the series which forms a vise around the viewer to better highlight the art of coercion exerted by Sobhraj. Formidable.