Photo: BBC

Tom Hiddleston uncovers it “felt very wild,” playing the town pastor to a village scared of a legendary ocean animal in Apple’s TV’s The Essex Serpent. The series is propelled by Sarah Perry’s acclaimed book and is set in Victorian waterfront Essex and London.

Will Ransome (Hiddleston) endeavors to obstruct the villagers’ apprehensions, saying that the animal is “an invention, a symptom of the times we live in.” 

Widow Cora Seabourne (Claire Danes) visits the town to investigate reports of the serpent and brings down fossils in the Essex scene after an earthquake, which prompts the God-fearing villagers to figure it could have stirred something.

Rumors of a horrendous ocean animal stack up following a missing local young lady report – believing she is already dead. A few residents speculate what occurred, saying she was “taken for her sins by the Blackwater beast.” 

Hiddleston told BBC that the script was “brilliant” and added, “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.”

Beasts are not new to Hiddleston, having gotten “Hulk-smash” as Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. However, he accepts an apparent limitless interest in legendary animals is among our need to sort out things we can’t make sense of or comprehend.

“Monsters are symbols of mystery … they reflect our need to find meaning in our lives,” he 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 insights are challenged by Cora, who he encounters in the swirling coastal mists. For the most part, the plot centers around the tension – intellectual and sexual – between the two.

While the film’s center might 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 maintains a strategic distance from religion and is passionate about fossils. She seriously is curious as to 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 film’s depiction of Cora is a tiny bit accurate.

Prof Gowan Dawson of the University of Leicester’s Victorian Studies Center indicated that a few of that period’s most notable ladies “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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