Category Archives: The Serpent

REVIEW The Serpent (S1 E5/8)

This period crime drama from the 1970s – which brings to life the true-crime case of serial killer and conman Charles Sobhraj – has got better and better and better as the series has developed. Each episode is now a masterclass in how to produce suspense and tension.

Furthermore, this series has presented a 360-degree exploration of how a web of lies and manipulation can seduce and pervert anyone who comes into contact with it – in each episode we’ve seen a focus on his partner Marie-Andrée Leclerc and the reasons she had become embroiled, we’ve seen a focus on the victims themselves, and we’ve also focused on the investigation and intent to bring him down. It really is great stuff.

We join episode five with Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg hot on the trail of Sobhraj, but there’s a problem – the killer has already suspected something is up after Ajay catches Nadine snooping around in the apartment. Once again, we’re launched into a rollercoaster of tension played and squeezed for every last drop.

Sobhraj, knowing that Nadine is probably behind Dominique’s disappearance and the cause more hassle on the way, sets to work on staying one step ahead of the cops. He dumps his precious briefcase with smitten local jeweller Suda and asks her to ramp up the business of buying gems – he wants to prepare for a move to Europe and this little manoeuvre not only signals his intentions but also finds a safe place for all of his incriminating documents. Oh, and he asks Suda to marry him just to make extra sure she’s onside.

So when the police (finally) raids Sobhraj’s apartment and take them in they not only find nothing but are also prey to Sobhraj’s duplicity – he presents them with false passports that tell the bamboozled authorities they are American citizens.

They can’t do a thing.

Elsewhere, Knippenberg, Siemons, Angela, Nadine and Remi are all celebrating Sobhraj’s incarceration, but they are cut short when they hear the news from the police station. It takes assistance from an American diplomat, Gilbert Redland (played by Ripper Street’s Adam Rothenberg) to save the day – he tracks down the original owner of the passport (still alive, thankfully), which proves Sobhraj has been lying.

But of course, by the time Knippenberg and Redland reach the copshop Sobhraj, Marie-Andrée and Ajay have been released.

I recap all of this stuff because it serves to reveal just how devious Sobhraj was – he ghosted from country to country, through border to the border, because he kept changing his identity and had the papers to back it up. Now Knippenberg (and now Redland) know exactly what they’re dealing with: a ghost who will kill if he has to and even when he doesn’t.

Call this round one to Sobhraj.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4 out of 5.





The Serpent is currently showing in the UK on BBC One and the BBC iPlayer. It will be available on Netflix in the US and other territories.


REVIEW The Serpent (S1 E4/8)

We’ve reached the half-way stage of this excellent, intoxicating, terrifying crime drama, and it’s safe to say that just when you thought things couldn’t get any more tense, the levels got ratcheted up a level.

Throughout the three previous episodes, The Serpent has presented us with dual timelines – ones that have respectively shown serial killer Charles Sobhraj and his coterie lure unwitting travellers into his web several months before we’ve seen young Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg try to piece together the puzzle.

In this episode, the two timelines almost caught up each other, which means from now on that it may well become a purely cat-and-mouse procedural.

However, thanks to this extraordinary episode, there was still time for a concurrent flashback story to take place.

The flashback segments, coupled with Knippenberg’s present-day tracking, are counterpoints that imbue The Serpent with tremendous suspense. This fourth episode – the halfway point in the series – is a masterclass in suspense, foreboding and foretelling.

The flashback sequences here take place in Nepal, where Sobhraj, Ajay and Marie-Andrée travel to on their false passports. There, something interesting happens, but no less terrifying.

I’ve mentioned before that each episode of The Serpent is almost a stand-alone story, with different themes and focuses (and tempo and colour palette) in each one. Here, the themes are of trust and mistrust, and there’s a very real sense that Sobhraj’s gang of three is beginning to fall apart.

But at the start of the episode, we saw two burning bodies in a forest. Releasing this information so early means the audience knows something awful is going to happen, it’s just a case of revealing who those poor people are.

Sobhraj, Marie-Andrée and Ajay are on the prowl for new victims around the streets of Kathmandu.

Sobhraj has already gambled away all of his money, and Marie-Andrée is furious. In desperation, Sobhraj steps up his attempts to find some wealthy young hippies to steal from (or worse), and knowing that she will be complicit in more death and destruction Marie-Andrée flips and tells him in the middle of a busy street that she can’t take it anymore.

In the first of many incredible scenes in this episode, Sobhraj – sensing that Marie-Andrée wants out – tests her later that evening in such a devious and awful way: he chops up the same sort of poison he gives to all of his potential victims, openly pours it into her drink and challenges her to drink it to prove her love and subservience to him, asking her if she is the Marie-Andrée that he adores or the young woman from France who wants to crawl back to her priest. Defiantly, she drinks it poison and all… in one big, gulp. Once she’s out for the count, there’s an uncomfortable moment when Sobhraj hovers over her sleeping body with a pillow, looking for all the world that he’s going to finish her off.

Could one of those burning bodies at the start of the episode have been Marie-Andrée?

Remember, this is Sobhraj’s way – he drugs his prey and then kills them. Instead, he decides to spare Marie-Andrée and places a red rose on the pillow next to her.

Once she awakes, she goes for a walk and meets two American travellers – Connie and Lamar – outside a temple, where a human depiction of a goddess stands in the window. Connie explains that it is a depiction of the Kumari Devi, a goddess whose purity is questioned by her lover and is soon cast aside for a new woman.

This very clever analogy rings true for Marie-Andrée. As she ponders her own relationship with Sobhraj and the possibility of being tossed aside just like the Kumari Devi, her conversation with Connie quickly turns when the traveller mentions that she and her partner have two red rubies in their possession that they’re hoping to sell. In a split-second, Marie-Andrée turns from victim to predator. It’s remarkable and dispicable and surprising – she had survived Sobhraj’s challenge and could have walked away. Instead, she becomes the person she hates Sobhraj for being, and lures them both back to her hotel room knowing full well what fate awaits them.

Could the burning bodies have been Connie and Lamar?

Meanwhile, Sobhraj’s right-hand man Ajay is also starting to waver. At a party, he meets a young, uninhibited English woman (who has a touch of the Edie Sedgwicks about her) and they share some strong hallucinogenic drugs. Sobhraj finds them in bed together the morning after the night before, and is not impressed. Accusing Ajay of being a ‘slave’ and impure (there’s that word again, purity, a concept that Sobhraj obviously holds dear), there’s a moment where you think that Sobhraj will finish Ajay off as well.

Could Ajay have been one of the bodies in the forest?

This episode really made you feel like that – it wasn’t a whodunit, especially, but a whowasthat. And because we knew two people were going to be killed in this episode, it kept you on the edge of your seat throughout.

(In the end it was poor Connie and Lamar who were taken care of by a frenzied, shirtless Sobhraj in a savage knife attack.)

And all this was happening at the same time as Nadine (who survived episode three’s cliffhanger) and Knippenberg’s escalating investigation. With Nadine volunteering to go back to Kanit House to secretly gather evidence against the returned Sobhraj, there was tension and jeopardy galore.

Episode four really did have a bit of everything.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 5 out of 5.




The Serpent is currently showing in the UK on BBC One and the BBC iPlayer. It will be available on Netflix in the US and other territories.

REVIEW The Serpent (S1 E3/8)

It seems the BBC’s eight-part, glossy, 1970s crime drama, The Serpent, has settled into an engrossing and terrifying groove. Since that opening episode, instalments two and now three have focused on either one of Charles Sobhraj’s victims or his inner circle. It’s an interesting a clever approach, one the gives context to his crimes and their surroundings, the characters around him, and the indeed the victims.

Last week, we saw the impact of Sobhraj’s manipulation and deviousness on his partner, Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Colman), and now attention turns to Dominique Renelleau, a young traveller who Sobhraj has gently coerced into his inner circle.

Every episode of the series – which gets better and better – seems to be almost a separate entity in itself, telling a different story, each slightly different in tone and pacing.

This week it was a tense cat-and-mouse story between Dominique and Sobhraj.

The way he did this was terrifying – he kept feeding him the same poison he had administered to others, and while he was ill Sobhraj was there ‘to look after him’. Giving him a place to stay and recuperate while still feeding him his ‘medicine’ was difficult to watch, especially as Dominique began to realise that something was seriously wrong. His innards were torn to pieces, he was sick all the time and he was starting to notice that he was the only one in the apartment to be so. The penny really dropped when Sobhraj’s pet monkey died after imbibing some of this supposed ‘health drink’.

By the stage, Dominique was desperate to escape back to France and back to his parents. But Sobhraj was determined to stop him, arguing that he had seen too much. Sobhraj had already reconstituted his passport so Dominique was stranded and trapped, and seemingly doomed.

And Sobhraj was right – Dominique had seen pretty much everything. He had seen Ajay and Sobhraj kidnap another young French woman and her Turkish boyfriend seemingly on a whim, poison them both and then dispose of them of different times. Dominique had also seen his smuggling operation at close quarters, and he had seen how Marie-Andrée was complicit in everything.

The driving force of this episode was whether Dominique could or would escape Sobhraj’s clutches.

As ever, this flashback story was intertwined with Herman Knippenberg’s burgeoning present-day investigation. The Dutch diplomat had found Nadine and her boyfriend Remi, who told him Dominique’s story – of how they became friends by the poolside at the Kanit House complex, and how he had come to her during Christmas when he was at his lowest, confessing everything. Nadine acted almost as a narrator to Dominique’s escape story, and this was a clever piece of plotting that supplied plenty of suspense, tension and tempo, right up until the end when we saw Dominique arrive safely back in France.

He was evidently one of the lucky ones. Nadine, who had gone to see if a letter had arrived from Dominique at her mail locker at the airport, was picked up by a suspicious Sobhraj. We’ll have to wait to find out if she was also one of the lucky ones.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4 out of 5.



The Serpent is currently showing in the UK on BBC One and the BBC iPlayer. It will be available on Netflix in the US and other territories.

REVIEW The Serpent (S1 E2/8)

At the end of the first episode of BBC One’s glossy, cinematic and hyper-stylised retelling of the story of serial killer Charles Sobhraj, I wondered if it could stretch the story out for eight episodes. I also wondered if the series was going to be more style over substance because that first episode was so full of crash zooms, retro-stylings, funky 70s music and a bleached-out colour palette it looked more like a fashion advert than anything else.

As it turned out, that first episode was merely a taster of what was to come – the bright, colourful entreé before the main course. It was a scene-setter, designed to provide a look at how glamorous life could be with Sobhraj, and what life could be in 1970s Bangkok, with all its colour, clouds of dope smoke and tie-dyed bonhomie.

This episode, on the other hand, opened the door to the other side of the story, and it made the series and the story all the better for it.

Gone were the crash zooms and stylised shots, and in came the menace, and the study of manipulation and psychopathy any good serial killer drama needs to establish to be taken seriously.

Serial killers provide a vicarious bogeyman for the audience to boo and hiss at, but as an audience, we also want to know why these killers kill.

In episode two, a lingering question was answered: why did Sobhraj’s lover and accomplice Marie-Andrée Leclerc stay with him and let him get away with, literally, murder?

Marie-Andrée’s story really came to the fore in this instalment and, with it, we began to understand the power and seduction of what Charles Sobhraj was offering.

Escaped from Quebec and from a broken family relationship, Marie-Andrée fell for Sobhraj’s good looks and compliments. He kept telling her she was beautiful and that he sensed that she was not able to be her real self. This flattery got him everywhere, but as soon as they were established as a couple she began to see what she had got herself into – there were quiet threats of violence and classic manipulation techniques, but also a lack of the kind of intimacy she craved.

She knew it, and we knew it – he just wanted her because he needed something from her.

And yet, as the high life began to take hold, she became thoroughly seduced to the point she could compartmentalise his obvious psychopathy because he gave her what she had always wanted – status, acceptance, worldly goods, and to feel part of something special. You could tell that the way she sashayed around the pool at Sobhraj’s famous Bangkok parties imbued with the kind of confidence the old Marie-Andrée just did not have.

As we saw Sobhraj develop his modus operandi – poisoning – the jewels and money rolled in, and even when she knew her lover and Ajay had killed Teresa, even when Sobhraj’s mistress introduced herself and even when Wim and Lena were being murdered in the room next door (she held up a radio to her ear to drown out the screams), she could still block everything else.

As she herself said in her diary: Marie-Andrée could not forgive, but Monique (her new identity) could.

It was a grimly fascinating study, and a much-needed anchor for a series that got darker very quickly.

Elsewhere, idealistic Dutch diplomat Herman was getting closer to the truth, when it was evident that the police and other consular services couldn’t give a fig. With the help of the irascible and reluctant Belgian diplomat Paul Siemons (Tim McInnerny, as good as ever) he had miraculously found a lead – Nadine, a member of the Sobhraj coterie and a concerned friend of Marie-Andrée, had gone to the British consulate to make accusations of fraud and murder against Sobhraj.

Naturally, she was disregarded.

So not only did we have a fascinating character study of Marie-Andrée (with a great performance from Jenna Coleman, complete with French dialogue), but also some creeping procedural elements. It was a heady brew, and one that turned The Serpent from a potential confection into a must-watch.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4 out of 5.


The Serpent is shown in the UK on BBC One and BBC iPlayer

REVIEW The Serpent (S1 E1/8)

A very happy New Year! If you read our gigantic 2021 preview (go here if you haven’t), you’ll know that 2021 starts in earnest with BBC One’s glossy-looking new, eight-part period crime drama, The Serpent.

It’s been on the slate for a while now (a COVID casualty, perhaps), and boasts a very decent cast to bring to life the story of French-Vietnamese, serial killer of the 1970s, Charles Sobhraj (Tahir Rahim).

Sobhraj cut a murderous but oh-so-charming swathe through south-east Asia in the mid-1970s, killing up to a dozen young men and women on the backpacking trail throughout Thailand, India and Nepal. Ably assisting him was his partner (in everything) Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman), and together they look the absolute business as they stride through the teeming streets of Bangkok in their over-sized shades and flares.

In fact, the look of The Serpent is that of a 1970s Blaxploitation or Kung Fu film – the palette is washed out, there’s a graininess to it and there are more crash zooms than you can shake a 35mm movie camera at.

And I think that’s the first thing you think after this first episode – there’s a real sense of style over substance.

And you have to pay attention, too, because just like Sobhraj’s life, The Serpent zig-zags throughout time as much as the killer did continents. One minute we’re in Hong Kong, and seeing Sobhraj and Leclerc charm the pants off Wim and Lena a pair of hapless and quite obviously doomed Dutch travellers, and then we’re zipping forward in time to meet young Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle) and his wife Angela (Ellie Bamber), who are on the hunt for the forgotten and missing Wim and Lena.

And then we’re into another segment featuring young American traveller Teresa (Alice Englert), who’s on her way to Nepal to join a Buddhist monastery (hey, it’s the 1970s). The mistake she makes is accepting Sobhraj’s recruiter-in-chief Ajay’s invitation to a party. When she refuses to smuggle money for Sobhraj, she’s done for.

It all happens a bit fast, but soon we see Sobhraj’s modus operandi – he lures hapless young tourists in, asks them to courier or smuggle something (jewels, money) into another country, and when they refuse, he kills them. The police and consular services think they’re just more young hippies who have come a cropper but presumably, thanks to Herman, that is going to change.

As a set-up episode, this first instalment is fine – it looks great, has an almost Tarantino-esque admiration for 70s movies and Rahim and Coleman are just fine in the leads. But at the moment, there isn’t much else there and it feels a bit empty; almost as if there’s no grit in the pearl.

More depth may well come later, so it’s still early days. I was very pleased Teresa got a voice in death and a moving sermon as she floated face down in the Bay of Bangkok, so I’m hoping for more realism to add alongside all the style.

At this moment in time, I’m not sure how they’re going to string this out for eight episodes (although Charles Sobhraj did have quite an extraordinary life), but for now it was a stylish, intriguing start to 2021.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4 out of 5.

BBC One confirms transmission date for The Serpent

BBC One has confirmed the transmission date for The Serpent.

Tahar Rahim and Jenna Coleman star as murderer Charles Sobhraj and his partner Marie-Andrée Leclerc respectively, with Billy Howle and Ellie Bamber seen for the first time as Herman and Angela Knippenberg.

Inspired by real events, The Serpent tells the remarkable story of how Sobhraj (Rahim) was captured. As the chief suspect in unsolved murders of young Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal’s ‘Hippie Trail’ in 1975 and 1976, Sobhraj had repeatedly slipped from the grasp of authorities worldwide to become Interpol’s most wanted man, with arrest warrants on three different continents.

(C) Mammoth Screen Ltd – Photographer: Roland Neveu

When Herman Knippenberg (Howle), a junior diplomat at the Dutch Embassy in Bangkok, unwittingly walked into Sobhraj’s intricate web of crime, he set off an extraordinary chain of events that saw Knippenberg seek to bring Sobhraj to justice for his terrible crimes.

The Serpent also features Tim McInnerny, Alice Englert, Mathilde Warnier, Gregoire Isvarine, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Fabien Frankel, Chicha Amatayakul, Surasak Chaiyaat, Ruby Ashbourne-Serkis, Armand Rosbak, Ellie de Lange, Ilker Kaleli and screen newcomer Amesh Edireweera in key roles across the series.

The Serpent: Friday January 1 2021, 9pm, BBC One

Jenna Coleman joins BBC One’s The Serpent

We’ve got one eye on The Serpent (no pun intended).

Filming has now begun on the Mammoth Screen-produced series, which was previously announced will co-star Tahar Rahim as Charles Sobrhaj, one of the most elusive criminals of the 20th century.

Now Jenna Coleman, Billy Howle have been cast in lead roles in

Coleman will play Marie-Andrée Leclerc, Sobhraj’s partner and frequent accomplice, with Billy Howle and Ellie Bamber cast as Herman and Angela Knippenberg.

Charles Sobhraj (Rahim) was the chief suspect in the unsolved murders of up to 20 young Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal’s ‘Hippie Trail’ in 1975 and 1976. Psychopath, con man, thief and master of disguise, having slipped repeatedly from the grasp of authorities worldwide, by 1976 serial killer Sobhraj was Interpol’s most wanted man and had arrest warrants on three different continents.

When Herman Knippenberg (Howle), a junior diplomat at the Dutch Embassy in Bangkok, unwittingly walks into Sobhraj’s intricate web of crime, he sets off an extraordinary chain of events that will see Knippenberg seek to bring Sobhraj to justice for his terrible crimes.

Tahar Rahim to play Charles Sobhraj in new BBC/Netflix series

Award-winning French actor Tahar Rahim (who was sensational in A Prophet) has signed onto play the infamous Charles Sobhraj in BBC One’s The Serpent, based on the astonishing true story of how one of the most elusive criminals of the 20th century was caught and brought to trial.

Charles Sobhraj was the chief suspect in the unsolved murders of up to 20 young Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal through 1975 and 1976.

Psychopath, con man, thief and master of disguise, having slipped repeatedly from the grasp of authorities worldwide, by 1976 serial killer Sobhraj was Interpol’s most wanted man and had arrest warrants on three different continents.

When Herman Knippenberg, a junior diplomat at the Dutch Embassy in Bangkok, unwittingly walks into Sobhraj’s intricate web of crime, he sets off an extraordinary chain of events that will see these two diametrically opposed men engaged in a chase across the porous borders of the Hippie Trail, as Knippenberg seeks to bring Sobhraj to justice for his terrible crimes.

The eight-part limited series is written by Richard Warlow (Ripper Street) and Toby Finlay (Ripper Street) and directed by Tom Shankland (Les Miserables).

Netflix is also onboard, so expect to see this on the streaming service outside of the UK.