The Serpent review: Tahar Rahim’s immaculate portrayal of Sobhraj is applause-worthy

In the mid-1970s Charles Sobhraj’s name became synonymous with crime. His antics became not just popular in India but also abroad. His life, which was rather interesting, has been penned by Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay for an 8-part limited series on Netflix produced by BBC. The Tom Shankland and Hans Herbots directed show begins with a thump and jolts you to an exciting orgasmic level with its minute detailing and nuanced performances.

Tahar Rahim, as Charles Sobhraj, handles the weight on the series on his shoulders to perfection. Not only has he aced the look to perfection but even his Eurasian accent makes the character come out as even more believable. He anchors the story forward with his charm and unavoidable wit. To add to his brilliance, we’ve Jenna Coleman, who brings in the subtle empathy to the story, however, never diminishing the cold-blooded brutality that’s ensuing all around. Her performance is variedly layered and you won’t be able to predict what to expect in the next scene. That’s a lethal combination to have while watching a crime drama. Last, but not least, Ellie Bamber as Angela Knippenberg (later Angela Kane) comes up with a stellar act. In a minimal screen time, she makes sure to give a performance that you’ll remember even when you’re done watching the show.

Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay’s writing is immaculate as it brings in a lot of detailing to the show. We had seen a similarly stellar performance a couple of years back when Randeep Hooda played Charles Sobhraj, but in The Serpent, the writing is the king as it takes centre stage and makes you want to applaud. The way they’ve used a non-linear format to narrate the timeline can get slightly confusing at times, but when you’re done with the show and you’re in retrospection, that’s when you realise how well the time-jumps had been planned.

A traditional format of storytelling could have made this Tom Shankland and Hans Herbots directorial more conventional, and that’s pretty much the only flaw that you could find in the making of the show. The cross-timeline connections could be slightly difficult to reason with, but it all makes sense in hindsight.

The finale of the show indeed looked hurried. To be honest, the makers should have started to unravel the numerous ancillary viewpoints in the previous episodes and that would have left the final episode clutter-free. However, that’s a shortcoming of the show which I couldn’t fathom why the makers didn’t put in much thought to. The finale is arguably hasty in its presentation.

In closing, I would like to say that it’s, without a doubt, one of the best crime dramas I’ve seen in the recent past. Had the storyline been a bit more linear, it would have made the average Indian viewer a lot happier, but alas! Tahar Rahim’s performance is a keeper for the ages, and it would be difficult for others to supersede it in any upcoming crime dramas. I’m going with 3.5 stars.

Title: The Serpent

Platform: Netflix

Cast: Tahar Rahim, Jenna Coleman, Billy Howle, Amesh Edireweera

Directors: Tom Shankland & Hans Herbots

Rating: 3.5 stars

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