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The Serpent (TV series)

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The Serpent
GenreCrime drama
Written by
Directed by
ComposerDominik Scherrer
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languagesEnglish, French, Dutch, Thai
No. of series1
No. of episodes8
Executive producers
  • Richard Warlow
  • Tom Shankland
  • Preethi Mavahalli
  • Damien Timmer
  • Lucy Richer
Production locations
  • India
  • United Kingdom
  • Thailand
Production companies
Original release
NetworkBBC One
Release1 January (2021-01-01) –
14 February 2021 (2021-02-14)

The Serpent is a 2021 British crime drama television serial developed by Mammoth Screen and commissioned by the BBC. The eight-part limited series is a co-production between BBC One and Netflix. It is based on the crimes of French serial killer Charles "the Serpent" Sobhraj, who murdered young tourists from 1975 to 1976. The series stars Tahar Rahim in the lead role as Sobhraj.

The series was shot on location in Thailand, until the COVID-19 pandemic which halted production for five months from March 2020. Filming was completed in Hertfordshire, England, during August 2020. It premiered on BBC One on New Year's Day in 2021 and all eight episodes were immediately made available on BBC iPlayer.[1][2] The show began streaming on Netflix in April 2021.[3]


Set in the mid-1970s, the story follows Charles Sobhraj, a French serial killer of Indian and Vietnamese descent, as he drugs and robs travellers, particularly young backpackers, travelling through Bangkok, Thailand, along the overland. He steals his victims' passports and identities to travel the world and sells stolen gems with girlfriend Marie-Andrée Leclerc. Charles Sobhraj is at the height of his crimes when a Dutch diplomat, Herman Knippenberg, begins investigating the murders of Dutch tourists and uncovers clues leading to Sobhraj.[4]



No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateU.K. viewers
(millions) [5]
1"Episode One"Tom ShanklandRichard Warlow1 January 2021 (2021-01-01)8.70
Bangkok, 1975. Herman Knippenberg, a Dutch diplomat in Bangkok, investigates the disappearance of a young couple who were last seen alive at the apartment of gem dealer Charles Sobhraj.
2"Episode Two"Tom ShanklandRichard Warlow3 January 2021 (2021-01-03)7.37
Marie-Andrée Leclerc leaves her life behind for the love of Charles Sobhraj but discovers the chilling cost. Herman Knippenberg vows to investigate the murders of the Dutch couple Willem Bloem and his fiancée Helena Dekker.
3"Episode Three"Tom ShanklandRichard Warlow10 January 2021 (2021-01-10)6.83
Young Frenchman Dominique Renelleau tries to escape Charles Sobhraj's terrifying lair. As he listens to Nadine and Remi's testimony, Herman realises the scale of Charles's crimes.
4"Episode Four"Tom ShanklandRichard Warlow17 January 2021 (2021-01-17)6.73
Charles embarks on a terrifying trail of destruction in Nepal, while Nadine helps Herman gather the final evidence he needs for the police to act.
5"Episode Five"Hans HerbotsToby Finlay24 January 2021 (2021-01-24)6.89
Herman with the help of Nadine begin an exhausting cat and mouse game with Charles. Despite Herman providing substantial evidence to the Thai Police, he continues to pile on the pressure on Major General Janthasin to prosecute Charles, Marie and Ajay. Unfortunately, the suspects are one step ahead.
6"Episode Six"Hans HerbotsToby Finlay31 January 2021 (2021-01-31)7.07
The fallout from Charles Sobhraj's (aka Alain Gautier) escape threatens Herman's diplomatic career. Charles attempts to set up business in France, a place that holds powerful memories for him.
7"Episode Seven"Hans HerbotsToby Finlay & Richard Warlow7 February 2021 (2021-02-07)7.14
Charles and Marie-Andrée arrive in Paris and try to set up a new life. Charles takes Marie-Andrée to meet his mother, however their meeting is not amicable. In Bangkok, Herman makes a breakthrough as news of Charles's crimes makes the headlines in the Bangkok Post and receives the attention of Interpol in Thailand. Meanwhile, Charles visits his ex-wife to make amends as Marie-Andrée returns to visit Charles's mother alone to obtain some answers.
8"Episode Eight"Hans HerbotsRichard Warlow14 February 2021 (2021-02-14)6.27
After an international arrest warrant is issued by Interpol at the request of the Thai police, the net begins to close in on Charles and Marie-Andrée in India. However, the final chapter of Herman's pursuit of Charles Sobhraj stretches long into the future.


Development and casting[edit]

In July 2019, the BBC announced that it had commissioned the eight-part drama from Mammoth Screen, Tom Shankland, and Richard Warlow.[6] Tahar Rahim would star as Charles Sobhraj.[7]

Jenna Coleman, Billy Howle, and Ellie Bamber joined the main cast in September 2019. Warlow and Toby Finlay would write, Shankland and Hans Herbots would direct, and Warlow and Shankland would executive produce alongside Stephen Smallwood, Preethi Mavahalli, Damien Timmer, and Lucy Richer.[8]


The Serpent was filmed in Thailand across nine provinces,[9] although principal photography took place in the capital Bangkok and in the resort town of Hua Hin in Thailand's Prachuap Khiri Khan province.[10] Shooting lasted about 10 months, with the production team working with local production house Living Films.[9] Filming stopped in late March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but resumed in Hertfordshire, England in August 2020 after five-months.[11] Scenes shot upon the resumption of filming were seamlessly blended among existing shots from Thailand, with just minor changes to the script required.[12] According to Jenna Coleman, in multiple TV and radio interviews, scenes taking place in India and France (among other locations) were shot in England due to the production being prevented from filming on location. Later, the BBC Writers Room made the shooting scripts for the episodes available through its online script library; the scripts indicate which scenes needed to be shot in England.[13]


BBC One revealed first look stills of the series in January 2020.[14] A trailer was then released on 17 December 2020.[15] The drama debuted on BBC One on 1 January 2021, followed by Episode 2 a few days later, after which the series settled into a weekly broadcast on Sunday nights. The complete 8-episode series was also released on iPlayer also on 1 January. Both the BBC broadcast and streaming release were available to UK residents only. In early February, the UK version of Amazon began listing a DVD release of the series, available as of 22 February 2021; as of June 2023 no permanent physical release has occurred in North America.

Netflix streamed the series internationally in April 2021.


On Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 70% based on 33 critic reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Tahar Rahim's unnerving performance brings reptilian menace to The Serpent, but this uneven slice of true crime is too byzantine in structure and too pat about its central villain's motivations to really get under the skin."[16]

The Serpent received generally positive reviews in the UK. Rebecca Nicholson, writing in The Guardian, gave the first episode 3/5 stars, finding the time-hopping plotting unnecessary and confusing, and wondering whether the programme had much to say, while admiring the atmosphere and the 'routinely outstanding cast'.[17] For Euan Ferguson writing in The Observer, who admired Rahim and Coleman's acting, The Serpent was a 'skilful retelling' of the Sobhraj story and one that both pays homage to his victims, while revealing the cultural shortcomings of the flower children. That Rahim underplays Sobhraj's charm was a good thing for Ferguson.[18] However, Rahim's absence of charisma makes it hard to understand how Sobhraj gained a hold over people for Flora Carr, writing in The Radio Times, who gives the show 3/5 stars.[19]

Giving the programme 3/5 stars, Ed Cumming in The Independent found the pace slow and Rahim's acting staying mostly on the right side of the fine line between inscrutable and dull.[20] James Delingpole in The Spectator called it "the best BBC drama series in ages", admiring the period detail, superb casting and absence of "unnecessary politics" as well as noting that it might be especially painful for people who could have found themselves in similar scenarios to those that Charles Sobhraj exploited.[21] By mid-point The Serpent gathers "considerable momentum" according to Trevor Johnson in Sight and Sound reviewing the first four episodes, who goes on to write that the series features an "alluring anti-hero" and excellent score, but is let down by the shallow characterisation of its Thai characters.[22] Rahul Desai of Film Companion called The Serpent “a refreshing restoration of balance" adding that it "reduces Charles Sobhraj from an image to an individual, a portrait to a person – and most importantly, from a human to a reptile."[23]

Angela Kane (formerly Knippenberg) has said that she was unhappy that The Serpent had downplayed her role in cracking the case.[24] The journalist Andrew Anthony, who interviewed Sobhraj twice, said that while the series captured his "enigmatic detachment and quiet menace", it misses his more troubling qualities of wit, charm and "a kind of playful sense of self-mythologising".[25]

In the Netherlands, one publication noted the inability of Billy Howle, playing a Dutchman, to pronounce his Dutch lines accurately.[26]

In Québec and France, it was noted that Jenna Coleman struggled to speak French Canadian accurately.[27]


  1. ^ "BBC One's The Serpent to premiere on New Year's Day". BBC Media Centre. 26 November 2020. Archived from the original on 26 November 2020. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  2. ^ Sutton, Megan (26 November 2020). "The Serpent starring Jenna Coleman: What you need to know". Good Housekeeping. Archived from the original on 26 November 2020. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  3. ^ Zemler, Emily (2 April 2021). "The true story behind Netflix's newest crime drama was too bizarre for TV". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 5 April 2021. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  4. ^ "'The Serpent' Analysis & Ending – Vanity Powerful Enough to Defeat Anything | DMT". Digital Mafia Talkies. 16 January 2021. Archived from the original on 2 March 2021. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  5. ^ "BARB 7-Day viewing data". BARB. Archived from the original on 3 December 2019. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  6. ^ "BBC Announces Epic New Drama Series – The Serpent". Mammoth Screen. 15 July 2019. Archived from the original on 5 February 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  7. ^ Keslassy, Elsa; Clarke, Stewart (15 July 2020). "Netflix Boards BBC's 'The Serpent,' Starring Tahar Rahim as Serial Killer (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Archived from the original on 29 March 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  8. ^ White, Peter (8 September 2019). "'The Serpent': Jenna Coleman, Billy Howle & Ellie Bamber Join BBC/Netflix Drama". Deadline. Archived from the original on 4 April 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  9. ^ a b Karnjanatawe, Karnjana (6 May 2021). "Filmmaker's dream". Bangkok Post. Archived from the original on 5 September 2023. Retrieved 30 March 2022.
  10. ^ "The Serpent – BBC's International Crime Thriller Shot in Hua Hin". Royal Coast Review. 6 January 2021. Archived from the original on 9 January 2021.
  11. ^ Keslassy, Elsa (28 August 2020). "Netflix & BBC's 'The Serpent' Relocates From Thailand to London After Five-Month Pause (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Archived from the original on 6 April 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  12. ^ Georgina Littlejohn (17 January 2021). "Where was The Serpent filmed? The set locations for BBC drama series based on serial killer Charles Sobhraj". iNews. Archived from the original on 5 September 2023. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  13. ^ "The Serpent (BBC Writers Room Script Library". bbc.co.uk. BBC. Archived from the original on 5 September 2023. Retrieved 21 August 2022.
  14. ^ Morris, Lauren (16 January 2020). "BBC One reveals first-look at Jenna Coleman's new crime drama". Radio Times. Archived from the original on 2 March 2020. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  15. ^ McLennon, Patrick (17 December 2020). "See first look trailer for BBC One serial killer drama The Serpent starring Jenna Coleman". Radio Times. Archived from the original on 20 March 2021. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  16. ^ "The Serpent: Limited Series (2020–2021)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 29 May 2021. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  17. ^ Nicholson, Emma (1 Jan 2020). The Serpent review – Tahar Rahim shines as ice-cold killer Archived 5 September 2023 at the Wayback Machine. The Guardian.
  18. ^ Ferguson, Euan (3 Jan 2021). The week in TV: The Serpent; Black Narcissus; Death to 2020; Doctor Who; Spiral Archived 5 September 2023 at the Wayback Machine. The Observer.
  19. ^ Carr, Flora (1 January 2021). The Serpent episode one review: Uneven accents distract in this chilling serial killer drama Archived 5 September 2023 at the Wayback Machine. The Radio Times.
  20. ^ Cumming, Ed (3 January 2021). The Serpent, review: Sexed-up serial killer drama is glacially slow to get going Archived 5 September 2023 at the Wayback Machine. The Independent.
  21. ^ Delingpole, James (9 January 2021). Superb but depraved: BBC1's The Serpent reviewed. The Spectator.
  22. ^ Johnston, Trevor (1 January 2021). The Serpent is a heady 1970s-set portrait of a globetrotting playboy killer. Sight and Sound.
  23. ^ Desai, Rahul (5 April 2021). "The Serpent, On Netflix, Is A Thrilling True-Crime Marriage Of Time And Legacy". Film Companion. Archived from the original on 5 April 2021. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  24. ^ Culliford, Graeme (2 January 2021). "Diplomat's wife who inspired The Serpent turned detective to cage serial killer". mirror. Archived from the original on 14 January 2021. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
  25. ^ Anthony, Andrew (27 December 2020). Speaking with the Serpent: my encounters with serial killer Charles Sobhraj Archived 11 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine. The Guardian.
  26. ^ Floortje Smit (19 May 2021). "Geen gehoor: een Engelse acteur die Nederlands probeert te spreken". De Volkskrant (in Dutch).
  27. ^ "Une actrice britannique joue le pire accent québécois dans la série le Serpent de Netflix".

External links[edit]