The Serpent Review

Tahar Rahim shines, but this slow-burning biopic needed sharper writing

Rony Patra -

 The Serpent Review
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What is the story about?

The series traces the exploits of infamous serial killer Charles Sobhraj in the 1970s, as he moved around from victim to victim, eluding capture. The series also looks into the lives of the people after him, with focus on Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg.


Charles Sobhraj's life has always attracted attention, and not least because of his murders. But there always has been a degree of wonder (or even envy) about how he managed to take advantage of lax policing across various jurisdictions in the 1970s, when much of South Asia and South-East Asia was still seeing the dying stages of the predominantly-white "hippie culture" of the 1960s. This eight-part miniseries, dexteriously directed by Hans Herbots and Tom Shankland, captures the smoothness and cunningness of Sobhraj in loving detail, even as he went about his operations with clinical, brutal efficiency, in cahoots with the equally-manipulative Marie-Andree Leclerc. The screenplay, written by Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay, manages to humanize Sobhraj a bit, even as they show how Herman Knippenberg overcomes his timidity and keeps trying to collect clues over the years in order to apprehend Sobhraj, with a rag-tag team of equally motivated people from diverse countries. While the series unfolds stylishly like a slow-burn thriller, the manner in which the series keep switching and cutting between multiple timelines tries your patience at times. There are times when you feel the writing could have been sharper. Nevertheless, with its superb lead performance as anchor, this series is intriguing enough for a watch.


Tahar Rahim carries this entire show on his shoulders, from the first frame to the last. His Sobhraj is cold, calculative and chameleon-like, but the actor also manages the tricky task of making him seem vulnerable and stoic at times. Jenna Coleman is solid as the manipulative Marie-Andree Leclerc, who constantly keeps you guesisng whether she is a partner in crime, or a victim herself. Billy Howle portrays the Dutch diplomat Herman with aplomb, though his accent sometimes gets in the way of his emotions. The rest of the cast does a decent job too.

Music & Other Departments

Dominik Scherrer's score adds pizzazz to the proceedings, even when things are going awry. Francois Renard-Labarthe's production design, Witoon Suanyai's art direction and the cinematography work in tandem to create a murky, seductive 1970s world where free-loving took a toll on personal security.


Watching Sobhraj go about ensnaring his victims is fascinating, and yet his brutal efficiency sends shivers down your spine.


The constantly-shifting timelines get confusing to follow at times. Also, the writing has a gaze problem, in the sense that Thailand and Nepal feel like playgrounds for rich white people to get lost.

Did I enjoy it?

I enjoyed it in parts, especially Rahim's performance.

Do I recommend it?

Watch it once to relive how Charles Sobhraj manipulated his victims. However, it is necessary to prepare yourself for various confusing timelines.

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