The real-life story of Charles Sobhraj, a notorious fraudster and serial killer known as ‘The Serpent’ who evaded justice until he was finally convicted of his crimes in India in the mid-1970s, has fascinated many filmmakers over the years. This eight-part BBC series brings another new re-telling of the many shocking exploits of the half-Indian, half-Vietnamese French conman spanning several continents.
Alain a.k.a. Charles (Rahim) is a charming and successful young gem dealer with the expertise to pick out the best cuts, or so it seems on the surface. His French fiancée, Marie-Andrée Leclerc a.k.a. Monique (Coleman), comes across as his devoted partner in crime but there is a distinct impression of things not being all as they seem.
The duo is living a carefree existence at Kannit House in Bangkok, a den of constant partying with a string of backpackers and travellers transiting Thailand joining in the fun by the poolside, mostly hippies on the travel circuit of Asia. Herman Knippenberg (Howle) from the Dutch embassy in Bangkok comes into the picture as two backpackers from the Netherlands go mysteriously missing after one such party at Kannit House. He becomes increasingly suspicious about there being more than meets the eye and draws wife Angela (Bamber) as his translating sidekick to try and establish the truth. The more he delves into tracing the missing Dutch couple, the more he gets drawn into a sinister web of drugs, smuggling and murder.
‘The Serpent’ is the kind of that entices the audience to keep going until they unravel every plot point. The story unfolds in time lapses and after an initial phase of adjusting to this backwards and forwards narrative, the story proves immensely intriguing and gripping.
There is an equal dose for the uninitiated and those who may have read considerable details of Sobhraj’s jewellery thefts and exploits in India and around the world and the shocking tales of his prison escapes. Familiarity with the story or not, all those moments “inspired by ” leave behind a distinct sense of sheer disbelief.
Rahim is spot-on as the charismatic and deceptive Charles Sobhraj and Coleman plays French runaway hippie Marie-Andrée with panache. The entire ensemble of supporting characters is equally adept at injecting a sense of conspiracy and enigma to the thriller, with Amesh Edireweera playing the scary and creepy Indian character of Ajay to perfection.
This series is not one for the faint-hearted but a treat for lovers of the kind of suspense thrillers that keep you on the edge of your seat with each episode.