Tom Hiddleston reveals it “felt very wild,” portraying the village pastor to a community afraid of a mythical sea creature in Apple’s TV’s The Essex Serpent. The series is inspired by Sarah Perry’s acclaimed book and is set in Victorian coastal Essex and London.
Will Ransome (Hiddleston) attempts to thwart the residents’ fears, saying that the creature is “an invention, a symptom of the times we live in.”
Widow Cora Seabourne (Claire Danes) visits the village to inspect reports of the serpent and topples fossils in the Essex landscape after an earthquake, which prompts the God-fearing residents to think something might have been awakened.
Speculations of a vicious sea creature pile up following a missing local girl report – believing she is dead. Several villagers theorize what happened, saying she was “taken for her sins by the Blackwater beast.”
In an interview with BBC, Hiddleston, calling the script “brilliant,” said, “They were about complex people at a complex time, with a conflict of ideas.” He further stated that shooting the series “felt very wild and mirrored the passions of the story we were telling. I was really excited to do it.”
Monsters are no longer new to Hiddleston, having received “Hulk-smash” as Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. He believes an evident boundless interest in mythical creatures is among our need to figure out things we can’t explain or understand.
“Monsters are symbols of mystery … they reflect our need to find meaning in our lives,” Hiddleston added. “I think human beings need, or are drawn, to externalize mystery. We like to be humbled by forces in nature and in our world that seem to be unexplained.”
Considering it’s “probable we know we don’t know everything,” he believes “we still have so many questions.” But, he continued, “And sometimes those questions coalesce into the shape of monsters, benign and otherwise.”
Will’s perceptions are dared by Cora, who he encounters in the swirling coastal mists. But, mostly, the plot focuses on the tensions – intellectual and sexual – between the two.
While the film’s focus may be the serpent, it somehow pivots around Dane’s charming Cora, keeping to herself with her young son following the death of her brutal husband. However, unlike in other TV dramas, Cora is not seeking a new partner.
“No. Oopsy daisy,” says Danes laughing, evidently amused by her role’s independence. “Her intellectual pursuits are the driving force.”
Cora avoids religion and is eager about fossils. She badly wants to find out whether the serpent is a dinosaur that survived extinction.
“I think it’s her eagerness to realize herself,” she further states. “Her development had been quite arrested when she married this intensely controlling, abusive man. She’s just so relieved to have a chance to breathe again.”
The movie’s portrayal of Cora is a tad bit accurate.
According to Prof Gowan Dawson of the University of Leicester’s Victorian Studies Centre, several of that period’s most remarkable women “who collected and studied fossils did not marry and devoted their lives to their paleontological pursuits.”
“This was the case with both Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, who, despite their very different social backgrounds, worked together in Lyme Regis and made some remarkable discoveries of fossilized sea creatures,” he stated.
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