Saturday, June 25

The Serpent review – Tahar Rahim shines like an icy killer | Television and radio


meIn American Heiress, his brilliant 2016 book on the kidnapping and trial of Patricia Hearst, Jeffrey Toobin makes a clear ideological distinction between the 1960s and 1970s, suggesting that the two decades had been inexactly merged into the American psyche. “The sixties were hopeful, the seventies bitter; the sixties were about success, the seventies about failure; the sixties were sporadically violent; the 1970s were omnipresent and violent, ”he writes. Any revolutionary optimism had certainly taken hold in 1975, when The snake (BBC One) kicks off his brilliant murder adventures on the Asian hippie trail. After all, nothing says new year, new you like an intense drama about a brutal serial killer.

Inspired by true events, The Serpent tells the story of how Charles Sobhraj, who killed young Western travelers in 1975 and 1976, was brought to justice, though justice is light on the ground in this first episode, which concentrates mainly in the atmosphere. We met Sobhraj for the first time in 1997, living freely in Paris, while playing with an American reporter who interviews him. “There are those who would say you got away with it,” she says, as he sits there, impassive.

If that is the central question of The Serpent, Sobhraj’s nickname, because he was very good at getting away from the law, although it also describes the performance of Tahar Rahim, who is cold, coiled and ready to pounce on any weakness, then it is no it is buried under many layers. We are shown that he was able to get away with it because long distance communication was difficult for travelers at the time; because hippies were dismissed as irresponsible and irresponsible; because it seems that embassies and local authorities did not communicate well with each other; and because he was magnetic and compelling, and he had the help of his partner, Marie-Andrée Leclerc.

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Jenna Coleman plays her usual warm type as the impenetrable Leclerc, who offers little insight into what’s in it for her. Leclerc is an intriguingly mysterious collaborator. Having met a young Dutch couple in Hong Kong, where they are selling gems, Sobhraj and Leclerc invite the couple to Bangkok to stay at their house and have fun. The timeline runs between their meeting, their trip, and the investigation carried out by Herman Knippenberg, a junior diplomat at the Dutch embassy, ​​who is determined to find out what happened to them, even though his diplomatic peers have no interest in getting dirty. hands. .

This timeline jump, which often explains that we are “two months early” or “two months later,” is unnecessary and a bit confusing. I can see that it is supposed to increase the tension, plunging back and forth in what happened to the Dutch couple as Knippenberg discovers more about how and why they disappeared, but struggles to maintain the necessary sense of dread, despite about what we know. how it worked for them from the start.

Much better and more compelling is the story of American traveler Theresa, on her way to a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, having one last adventure with wildlife before getting there. Alice Englert, who excelled in Ratched, is impressive as the young woman Sobhraj takes an interest in. It’s ominous from the moment he appears on screen, happily seeing his old life with one last night of parties and sex. “As you know, Americans do not prosper in this part of the world,” Sobhraj lectured him spitefully as he made the terrible mistake of trusting him, for a brief and finally tragic moment.

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It is excellent for evoking an atmosphere, although sometimes at the cost of history. Heat, alcohol and curfews, tobacco, sideburns and suits come together to create a vivid image of the idealism of those who still pursue the hippie dream well into the 1970s, and the cruelty with which Sobhraj manipulates and cuts it. He is able to target these “long-haired bums”, “shy work bums” and “fucking stupid hippies” – the Australian attaché is particularly outspoken on that front – because they were vulnerable to a con man and murderer like Sobhraj, in that time, in that environment. (The addendum is equally frank with poor Knippenberg, or, as he calls it, “bloody mouse in clogs”). Billy Howle is strong as the harried Dutchman, amid a routinely outstanding cast; Rahim and Coleman are brilliantly creepy.

However, I’m not sure The Serpent had much more to say. It tells the story, makes Sobhraj’s life seem pretty glamorous, in the midst of all that murder, and makes it pretty clear that these young men had their futures taken away from them in the most cruel way. But it is not a novel, nor much of a why: anyone who knows the story will have an idea of ​​where it lands. It looks good, and pulls the right strings, but, in the end, it left me a little cold.


www.theguardian.com

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