1975, Bangkok, Thailand, Kanit House hotel. A married couple lives in the hotel – a Frenchman of Vietnamese-Indian origin Alain Gauthier (Tahar Rahim) and his wife Monique (Jenna Coleman). Gaultier is a gemstone dealer and he and Monique often fly to different countries to meet with clients.
Alain also has another interesting hobby: he likes to meet various hippies traveling alone or in couples along the “Hippie Trail” in Southeast Asia. For example, once in Hong Kong, he met the Dutch – twenty-nine-year-old Willem Blume and twenty-six-year-old Lina Dekker. Alain and Monique found Willem in a jewelry store: he was choosing an expensive ring that he was going to give to Lina.
Alain suggested that Willem sell a prettier ring for a lower price, Willem introduced the couple to Lina and they eventually accepted Gauthier’s offer to buy the ring from him, and the couple took advantage of Alain’s kind invitation to Monique to stay in their hotel room in Bangkok at Kanit House.
Two months later, a request came to the Dutch embassy from a Dutch citizen, the husband of Lina’s sister. He wrote that the traces of Lina broke off in Bangkok and that the girl did not get in touch. The letter got to the junior embassy officer Herman Knippenberg (Billy Hole). Herman tries to find out with the police if anything is known about the missing couple, but the police are not going to help him: no one there cares about the fate of some two Dutch people, especially since they are fucking hippies. And if something terrible really happened to them, then the Thais are not going to make such information public, because it harms the tourism business.
Knippenberg turns to Belgian embassy officer Paul Simmons (Tim McInnerney), whom he knew, for help. Paul introduces him to Laver (Damon Herriman) from the Australian embassy, who tells the story of two Australian hippies whose bodies were found burned to death in the area. However, later it turned out, as Laver said, that the Australian hippies are alive and well: they lived on the island for some time.
Knippenberg suspects that the corpses are Willem and Lina and asks the Bangkok Police General to initiate an investigation. But he refuses to do this, referring to the fact that the police have more important things to do, but the general does not mind that Herman himself conducts the investigation.
And he really conducts his painstaking investigation, despite the fact that this is not only not part of his duties, but also causes obvious irritation in the Dutch ambassador.
In the course of the investigation, Knippenberg will find out absolutely shocking things about who this Alain Gauthier is and how many corpses he has on his conscience.
This series tells a story (or rather, part of a story) about a real person, whose real name was Charles Sobraj. He was born in Saigon to a Vietnamese and an Indian father. Sobraj’s parents divorced, his mother got along with a lieutenant in the French army who served in French Indochina. During the service, the lieutenant and Charles’s family often flew to France and back, and in the end, Sobraj’s mother, along with Charles, settled in Paris.
Then you can talk for a long time about the series of crimes of Charles Sobraj, his prison terms, escapes from prison and new crimes, but this, in fact, is told in the series.
Events in the series are shown intermittently, discretely: the action always takes the audience for several months in one direction or another, and periodically there are jumps for several years.
Many viewers are annoyed by this, especially at first, and I know people who, after watching the first episode, stopped watching this show. However, I highly recommend not to stop after the first series, even if the impression is negative, because this series, in my opinion, is very worth watching.
Why are we shown everything in pieces, and even snatching them from different time periods? At first, this was also not very clear to me, although there was a certain logic in this: various segments of the action were snatched out not randomly, but, as it were, in a spiral. At first, they told about the story of the Dutch couple, with whom, in principle, the investigation as such began (and this, I note, was far from the first murder by Sobraj in this region), after which the story began to describe more and more wide circles in which they first showed the story of Serpent’s acquaintance with Monique, other murders, older events from his French life, and so on.
And now, after I watched the series in its entirety, I understood why it was all mounted in this way: the logic here lined up quite clearly. The creators of the series made the Knippenberg investigation a key one, and rightly so: it is really very important, and only thanks to this modest embassy employee, Sobraj and his crimes were brought to the attention of both the Thai police and Interpol.
And since the investigation of Knippenberg is very important and it should go through the entire series, then, in general, there are no options, except to show the investigation clearly chronologically connected, that is, there are no jumps in time in the story of Knippenberg in the series, but the events from the life of Sobraj and his victims, it is precisely what has to be shown intermittently and, as it were, in an unwinding spiral. So here, in my opinion, everything was clearly shown, and there simply were no other mounting options.
How is it filmed and played? Very well filmed and played. The series keeps you in great suspense, you watch it with undivided attention, and it is very exciting. It would seem that a series about a serial killer and a notorious bastard – what can captivate here, but in the series the corresponding accents are placed very precisely. Here, of course, no one calls to admire Sobraj, but quite the opposite – this person causes only a feeling of disgust.
The series is primarily devoted to the investigation of Hermann Knippenberg, as well as a certain study of the personality of Sobraj himself, who, despite the fact that he spent half his life in prison, nearly escaped punishment for his numerous murders. And he was even such a famous news runner who earned serious money from interviews and selling the rights to his adventures.
The creators of the series are very interested in how this happened at all, as well as how Sobraj approached both his victims and his captors so that he was nicknamed the Serpent, the Bikini Killer and the Asian Charles Manson. And this is incredibly interesting to watch.
Charles Sobraja, aka Alain Gauthier, was played by Tahar Rahim, a Frenchman of Arab origin (his parents are from Algeria). And here the creators of the series absolutely hit the mark, and the actor himself played this role perfectly. But Takhar faced a difficult task. On the one hand, he had to show the most perfect monster, a serial killer, but, on the other hand, the real Charles Sobrage, judging by numerous testimonies, had even more powerful charisma than the same Charles Manson, with whom he was often compared, and thanks to With this charisma, Sobraj easily recruited his supporters, who usually accompanied him throughout his life, and ingratiated himself with his victims, whom he “cured” from “diseases” caused by substances that he added to their drinks or food, or to which solved problems like “losing” passports, which he himself stole.
Tahar Rahim’s image turned out to be incredibly impressive. It is clearly seen how he could charm the first comers and inspire confidence in himself. You can clearly see how powerful, frightening and paralyzing the will of other people he could be in relation to those whom he forced himself to help. And it is clearly seen why Sobraj considered himself capable of coping with any situation and escaping from any prison, especially since he managed to pull off all sorts of cunning escapes more than once.
Jenna Coleman also really liked the role of Monique (who is Marie-André Leclerc). The series clearly shows how Sobraj bends Monique to his will, how he forces her to help him in frauds and crimes, and where it all eventually led. An excellent role, Monique, Jenna turned out not just convincing, but convincingly ambiguous and ambivalent: the woman, of course, well understood what she got into, but she had no way back – she had no money, Sobraj did not give her passport, and she helped him, realizing that she was also becoming a criminal.
The real Nadine Gires, who helped expose Sobraj, who was shown in the series, said that, in her opinion, the series distorted the image of Monique, who was actually a victim and hostage of Charles, but it didn’t seem so to me: this is exactly what is shown in the series – a prisoner, a hostage, and Sobraj forces her to play the appropriate role. She didn’t seem to like it very much, but she had nowhere to go: the only way out of Sobraj was feet first.
Billy Hole did an excellent job as Hermann Knippenberg, one of the central characters in the story. It seems to be a clerk a clerk, but he clung to this story, considering it deeply personal for himself, and he really investigated and promoted it. This man’s obsession with Sobraj is excellently shown, and it shows why and how it happened. I really liked Howl, that’s a really impressive role!
Well, I’ll also note Tim McInnerney, who played Paul Simmons, with whom Knippenberg has a lot to do and who helped him a lot. The image is powerful, textured, very bright, McInnerney portrayed him just fine, although he does not have too much screen time there.
I looked with great interest, I liked it very much, despite a certain fragmentation of the narrative, which, as we have already found out, is quite justified. Excellent production, excellent acting, very well done: original, well told story, looks very exciting.
I highly recommend it, it’s a great series.
Now, as usual with similar stories, photos of real characters.
Prototypes and the actors who played them. (Selection from here.)
Real and cinematic prototypes of the main characters – Monique and Alain.
The real Charles Sobraj in 1997 and Tahar Rahim as his role in the TV series.
The real Marie-André Leclerc and Jenna Coleman.
The real Hermann Knippenberg with actor Billy Hole who played him.
Serpent / The Serpent movie review
Director: Hans Herbots, Tom Shankland Cast: Tahar Rahim, Billy Hole, Jenna Coleman, Ellie Bamber, Mathilde Warnier, Grégoire Yvarine, Tim McInnerny, Amesh Edirevera, Apasiri Kutanan, William Brand, Damon Herriman
Series, UK, 2021, 58 min. 1 season, 8 episodes