Charles Sobhraj became known as ‘The Serpent' due to his snake-like ability to avoid detection by authorities. To his victims, Charles would present himself as ‘Alain Gautier', a wealthy gem merchant. In reality, he was funding his lavish lifestyle by killing young backpackers.
The BBC/Netflix series ‘The Serpent' unfolds the complex life of Charles Sobhraj, responsible for the murder of at least 20 people between 1963 and 1976. Had this story been a fictionalised account of a serial killer, viewers could rightly criticise it for being ridiculously improbable. However, this limited Netflix series tells the actual events leading up to his capture.
What makes Charles' crimes so dark is the fact that he didn't act alone. The master manipulator beguiled two accomplices to aid him—Marie-Andrée Leclerc from Quebec and Ajay Chowdhury from India. Marie started a relationship with Charles, and with Ajay, the trio embarked on a decade long crime spree.
What makes ‘The Serpent' so intriguing is how effectively the series blends historical events with dramatisation. Scriptwriters admit in the opening credits that dialogue in the series is imagined, but it feels authentic.
The main actors in ‘The Serpent' are brilliant; Tahar Rahim plays Charles. He captures the charm and duplicitous nature of the killer perfectly. Special mention must go to Jenna Coleman; her depiction of Charles' lover and accomplice Marie is flawless. Amesh Edireweera is creepy and menacing as Ajay. Overall, the whole cast is terrific; Ellie Bamber (Angela Knippenberg) and Mathilde Warnier as Nadine Gires also stand out.
In total, ‘The Serpent' has eight 1 hour episodes; each one moves the story forward. However, the overuse of flashbacks does spoil the flow slightly.
The tension ramps up as Dutch Embassy staff begin to investigate the disappearance of two young backpackers from the Netherlands. A team of concerned diplomats start piecing together the clues that will eventually uncover the grim crimes of Charles Sobhraj.
The series does a fantastic job of capturing an era when travel was adventurous, optimistic, but not without danger. If you love true-crime drama, ‘The Serpent' will not disappoint.