This Netflix and the BBC co-production reviews the gruesome real-life story of Charles Sobhraj in eight episodes
Bangkok, 1975. In this bustling and luxurious Asian capital, few Western tourists were capable of resisting the alluring call of the sirens beckoning them to end their nights out at Casa Kanit, a seemingly paradisiacal place where Alain, a gem dealer, lived with his girlfriend, Monique. By the time the innocent travelers discovered that the former was actually Charles Sobhraj, a serial backpacker killer, and the former his accomplice Marie-Andrée Lecrec, for most it was too late. In the least tragic scenario, he drugged them, robbed them and took away their passports to flee to a new destination. Thus begins ‘The Serpent’, a co-production by Netflix and the BBC that, in eight episodes already available on the platform, narrates the sadistic true tale of a criminal who killed at least twelve young people.
From this point onwards, this miniseries written by Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay (‘Ripper Street’) performs a series of time jumps to reveal how Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim) and Lecrerc (Jenna Coleman) met, the crimes they committed together with accomplice, Ajay Chowdhury (Amesh Edireweera), and the subsequent efforts of the young diplomat Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle), third secretary of the Dutch embassy in Bangkok, to hunt them down. He could never have imagined then that the disappearance of two young compatriots would entangle him in a criminal plot that would involve the police forces from several Asian countries over many years.
Despite the time jumps, it’s easy to get hooked on the story of the charismatic and calculating ‘bikini killer’, so nicknamed for the clothing in which they found several corpses of his victims. Tahar Rahim strikes a good balance between coldness and seduction, although Jane Coleman stands out even more in the role of a seemingly independent Western woman who ends up surrendering to the whims of Sobhraj, a veritable snake charmer, who also earned the nickname the serpent for its ability to sneak past the police and the title given to the miniseries.
Filmed mainly in Thailand just before the pandemic, ‘The Serpent’ boasts a setting as exotic as it is meticulous (BBC brand), which transports the viewer to the wonderful Southeast Asia with the assurance that at least for them, it will not be a death trap. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that, in its first week on Netflix, this drama has taken the podium of the most viewed on the platform in Spain.
Real-life crime, we can’t get enough
Nor should we forget that the successful genre of ‘true crime’ -series and documentaries based on real cases – in which ‘The Serpent’ is framed, produces both fear and fascination, it entices us to discover the mechanisms of a macabre and sick mind. The real footage of the city of Bangkok at the time serves well to transition in some episode and prevents us from forgetting the initial warning: “This drama is inspired by real events.” However, the dialogues are fabricated, and the names of the victims and their circumstances have been changed “out of respect” for both them and their families, they add.
For the especially curious among us and given the impossibility of charting all the misadventures of Sobhraj and his comings and goings from prison beyond the seventies in only eight episodes, the end credits explains where each of the protagonists are currently. And they dedicate this remarkable miniseries, a small oasis in a month where the ravages of the pandemic are already leaving their mark on the pace of premieres, “to all those intrepid young people who left with big dreams”.