There are stories so incredible that even fiction could not do better. This is the case of Charles Sobhraj, little known by younger generations but one of the most wanted men by international justice in the 1970s. The post is full of SPOILERS because the series The Serpent is based on real events, so there is no way to avoid secrets.
Charles Sobhraj, who is still alive and imprisoned in Nepal, was a murderous scammer who preyed on the good faith of backpackers on what was known as the “hippie trail” between Thailand, India, and Nepal. In the series, he is played by the excellent French actor Tahar Rahim, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for the role.
The Netflix production with the BBC not only reproduces the era and characters with excellent precision but also builds a tense non-linear narrative full of twists, even for those who know the story of the killer nicknamed Serpent (for managing to dodge and escape the Justice countless times).
Charles’ life before the murder spree is not shown in detail, we already see him as an adult. There’s more to it than the 8-episode series shows.
Always troubled since he was a kid, stealing and scamming, after separating from his 1st wife, he specializes in stealing from tourists in Thailand. It was there that he met and got involved with the Canadian Marie-Andrée Leclerc, who soon became his accomplice in the scams in which they pretended to be sellers of precious stones. When tourists start to disappear and burnt bodies appear in different places, the police don’t know how to solve or link the crimes, committed by the couple and one more accomplice. He is a young Dutch diplomat who ends up solving the murders and leading the hunt for Charles. It’s nothing short of amazing how it all came together.
Charles and Marie-Andrée, using false names, drugged and killed tourists for their passports and possessions. The two (plus a third accomplice) were linked to at least 11 murders between 1975 and 1976, not counting the money and jewelry scams. It’s unbelievable what they did without being even suspected.
Netflix is keen to point out that even though it is a true story, all dialogues are fictional. In fact, they are inspired by recordings made by Charles himself for an Australian journalist, but years later the criminal denied the authenticity of the interview and started to remain innocent.
Tahar Rahim is very good as the mysterious assassin, almost unrecognizable. Tahar, who won the César for Best Actor for the movie The Prophet and is in the cast of The Looming Towers, on Amazon Prime, is one of the best actors of his generation. In the contained evil and violence of the killer Serpent, he once again puts on a show.
Actress Jenna Coleman, who in England is successful in the series about Queen Victoria and had passage by Dr. Who, is also very similar to the real Marie-Andrée Leclerc. The unhealthy relationship between the two is the backbone of the plot, which has no belly and holds until the last – and surprising – moment. It’s an excellent series, kind of unnoticed with so many other productions but already one of the highlights of 2021. It’s worth marathoning.