Roush Review: A Suspensefully ‘Serpent’-ine Tale of Seduction and Murder

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 24/12/2020 – Programme Name: The Serpent – TX: n/a – Episode: n/a (No. 2) – Picture Shows: Charles Sobhraj (TAHAR RAHIM), Monique/Marie-Andrée Leclerc (JENNA COLEMAN) – (C) Mammoth Screen Ltd – Photographer: Roland Neveu

Like an exotic urban legend in the bronzed flesh, Charles “The Serpent” Sobhraj is the international man of mystery as bogeyman. Tall, dark and lethally handsome, with an enigmatic expression as unchanging as his lush helmet of hair, the central figure of Netflix’s gripping eight-part true-crime drama The Serpent is played with quiet, cold-eyed menace by Tahar Rahim (recently acclaimed for his performance in The Mauritanian).

This real-life con man spent much of the 1970s luring unsuspecting young hippie tourists into his Bangkok party pad, where he’d drug and often brutally murder them for their travelers’ checks and passports. These counter-culture victims, unfortunate Jane and John Does, mostly flew under the radar — and so for too long did Sobhraj, who maintained a false front as a European gem trader named Alain.

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But after he targets a Dutch couple with the help of his glamorous and blithely in-denial accomplice, Marie-Andrée “Monique” Leclerc (Victoria’s stunning Jenna Coleman), their murders spark a crusade for justice engineered by inexperienced diplomat Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle). This earnest Dutchman, smoking furiously as if to illustrate his mounting frustration, is as determined as Les Misérables’ Javert — but with better cause — to stop this seductive and slippery fiend, if only he can get his superiors or local authorities to take him seriously.

Engrossing as it builds to moments of Hitchcockian suspense, especially once Knippenberg enlists a ragtag group of amateur ex-pats to try to trap his elusive and escape-prone target, The Serpent shifts sometimes too dizzyingly back and forth through time as it dramatizes Sobhraj’s merciless crimes. And attempts to psychoanalyze him as a mixed-race outsider who never earned his dragon-mother’s love feel half-hearted at best.

Still, you’ll root for those who work desperately to pin him down and make him answer for the many wandering souls forever lost.

The Serpent Monique Marie Charles Sobraj

Mammoth Screen Ltd/Roland Neveu

The Serpent, Limited Series Premiere, Friday, April 2, Netflix