Apple TV's Period-Piece Miniseries 'The Essex Serpent' Is Based on a Best-Selling 2016 Book

Apple TV Plus's miniseries 'The Essex Serpent' follows a widow who sets out to investigate sightings of a mythical sea creature. What about the book?

Bianca Piazza - Author

Apr. 27 2022, Published 5:53 p.m. ET

Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston in 'The Essex Serpent'

Some of the most prestige-level television miniseries of today are based on brilliant literary works. From Showtime's Sharp Objects to Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House and The Queen's Gambit, books are rapidly being brought to the small screen. Apple TV Plus's The Essex Serpent is the next limited series birthed from a book. Based on the 2016 novel of the same name, The Essex Serpent sees how an urban legend about a mythical sea creature causes tensions to rise in a tiny Essex village in Victorian England.

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Directed by Clio Barnard and written by Anna Symon, The Essex Serpent stars Emmy winner Claire Danes (Homeland) as Cora Seaborne — a recently widowed woman who's thrilled to finally be freed from the confines of her late husband's abuse. She moves to a little village in Essex determined to investigate reports of a mythical sea monster lurking in the area. An urban legend deems the beast the "Essex Serpent," and Cora — a progressive woman who enjoys questioning life's many mysteries — is enlivened by the possibility that the serpent sightings are real.

Cora becomes close with pastor and skeptic Will Ransome (Tom Hiddleston), despite the fact that she's not sure she believes in God and he's doubtful of the serpent's existence. And while Will Ransome is open-minded and rational, the religiously conservative townspeople soon assume that tragic incidents are connected to Cora, and that she attracted the reemergence of the vile serpent. Oh how we love a tale of threatening religious paranoia. So, who wrote the award-winning book?

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'The Essex Serpent'
Source: Apple TV Plus

Clémence Poésy as Stella Ransome in 'The Essex Serpent'

'The Essex Serpent' is based on the novel of the same name by author Sarah Perry.

British author Sarah Perry is known for writing novels After Me Comes the Flood (her 2014 debut novel), The Essex Serpent, and 2018's Melmoth, as well as her 2020 nonfiction book Essex Girls. "She is a winner of the Waterstone's Book of the Year Awards and the British Book Awards, and has been nominated for major literary prizes including the Women's Prize for Fiction, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Folio Prize and the Costa Novel Award," Sarah's website reads.

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Along with being an accomplished novelist, Sarah Perry has contributed to prestigious publications like The Guardian, The New York Times, The Observer, and the London Review of Books.

While The Essex Serpent isn't exactly "based on a true story," Sarah did base it on a real 17th-century legend.

"I first heard of this mythical serpent courtesy of my husband, who’d been reading a little 1938 book called ‘Companion Into Essex.’ The book includes an excerpt from a pamphlet printed at Clerkenwell in 1669, which relates the appearance of 'a Monstrous Serpent,'" Sarah wrote for the British Library's Living Knowledge blog. "The pamphlet goes on to show 'the length, proportion, the bigness of the Serpent, the places where it commonly lurks and what means hath been used to kill it.'"

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'The Essex Serpent'
Source: Apple TV Plus

Tom Hiddleston as Will Ransome in 'The Essex Serpent'

Though The Essex Serpent seemingly boasts dark themes, Sarah's website calls the bestselling novel "a celebration of love, and the many different shapes it can take."

Scottish poet and T. S. Eliot Prize winner John Burnside praised Sarah's sophomore novel, comparing it to the works of legendary authors Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker.

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"Had Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker come together to write the great Victorian novel, I wonder if it would have surpassed The Essex Serpent? No way of knowing, but with only her second outing, Sarah Perry establishes herself as one of the finest fiction writers working in Britain today," he wrote in celebration of her book.

Based on the beautifully shot, emotionally rich, and unnerving scenes featured in the trailer, we can only imagine that the series adaptation of The Essex Serpent will live up to its origin.

The Essex Serpent premieres on Friday, May 13, 2022, on Apple TV Plus.

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