The Essex Serpent is bringing Sarah Perry’s prize-winning book to life but what is the Claire Danes drama about?

Bringing together historical detail and myth, The Essex Serpent sees a rural community gripped by fear of an elusive monster...

The Essex Serpent starring Claire Danes and airing on Apple TV+
(Image credit: Apple TV)

The Essex Serpent adaptation has an all-star cast led by Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston and it’s sure to have gripped with its suspenseful historical tale. 

If you’ve made your way through the best historical fiction books then you’ll surely be aware of the Victorian era-meets-myth story of Sarah Perry’s best-selling novel, The Essex Serpent. Following newly-widowed Cora as she makes a new life for herself in the Essex countryside, her obsession with a local legend of the dragon-like Essex Serpent soon takes over. Fans of historical dramas who loved the level of detail in The Gilded Age and the emotional depth of The Last Kingdom, this might just be the next unmissable watch for you. 

But what is The Essex Serpent show about, how does it differ from the book and how can you make sure you don’t miss this compelling new drama?

*Warning: Spoilers ahead!*

The Essex Serpent starring Tom Hiddleston as Will

(Image credit: Apple TV)

What is The Essex Serpent show about? 

Fans of the best period dramas and the Life After Life book will quickly be drawn into The Essex Serpent’s blend of Victorian setting and eerie mysticism. Adapted from Sarah Perry’s best-selling book of the same name, the Apple TV show tells the tale of Cora Seabourne, played by Homeland star Claire Danes, who arrives in Essex for a fresh start at life after being recently widowed. 

Now free forever from her abusive late husband Michael, Cora is also free to follow her passion for natural sciences and has become fascinated with the story of something altogether more mystical. 

Having heard the tale of the infamous Essex Serpent, described in the book as “more dragon than serpent” that supposedly lives in the Blackwater Estuary, Cora settles in the small village of Aldwinter. 

After hundreds of years she’d heard rumors that the Essex Serpent has returned and even claimed a life on New Year’s Eve. But Cora’s obsession with uncovering the truth of this local myth becomes more than a little complicated when she finds herself drawn to local vicar Will, played in The Essex Serpent show by Marvel star Tom Hiddleston.

Every bit as suspicious about the so-called Essex Serpent, Will and Cora form an alliance of sorts. Though whilst she approaches her investigations to the truth behind the myth with reason and logic, his faith means he’s convinced that the serpent is the result of fleeing from true belief.

The Essex Serpent starring Tom Hiddleston as Will

(Image credit: Apple TV)

It seems they’re on opposite sides and the same side simultaneously and the intensity of their relationship promises to spill over into something far more passionate. 

As Will admitted reluctantly to Cora in the trailer, “I can't think clearly when I'm around you." Though we can’t help feeling that his wife Stella, played by Harry Potter actor Clémence Poésy, wouldn’t be too thrilled to hear her husband utter those words…

But the complicated relationships within the show will soon become all the more emotional. Soon the locals start to wonder if Cora herself is attracting the dreaded and apparently deadly Essex Serpent to their shores…

How The Essex Serpent TV series is different from the book: what we know

With The Essex Serpent TV show about to be unveiled on Apple TV it’s not yet clear exactly how many differences could emerge between Sarah Perry’s original novel and the highly-anticipated adaptation. However, there are reportedly already a few things that are understood to have been tweaked when the showrunners were bringing this popular story to life on-screen. 

According to RadioTimes, the TV show depicts the distinctive scar on Cora's neck as curved and it’s the horrific result of her late husband attacking her with a poker.  

Comparatively, book-Cora’s scar is much, much more intricate and incredibly specific. Also caused by her husband’s vicious behavior, Cora’s scar in The Essex Serpent novel was the result of being hit by a candlestick decorated with silver leaves. The leaves left a clear imprint on her, causing the scar to appear far more botanical than the serpentine version in the drama series. 

Another important reported change between The Essex Serpent book and show is said to be the depiction of the character of Dr Luke Garrett. In the book he is romantically interested in Cora, having grown close to her whilst he was treating her late husband. 

But he’s sadly not presented as being in with much of a chance at getting together with her. Instead Luke has the nickname The Imp because of his diminutive stature. 

The Essex Serpent starring Frank Dillane as Luke

(Image credit: Apple TV)

In contrast, the publication has suggested that The Essex Serpent show version of Luke, who is played by Fear the Walking Dead star Frank Dillane, is put forward as a very viable match for widow Cora at first. So much so that there’s even a hint of a love triangle as she gets to know Will more in Essex.

But whilst there might well be more major changes lying ahead between The Essex Serpent book and the new Apple TV adaptation, the screenwriter Anna Symon told the Daily Gazette that she hopes that newcomers to the story will “fall in love with [the show] in its own right”.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, £3.79, Amazon 

When Cora Seaborne finds herself a widow, she is finally free to start a new life away from London and memories of her controlling husband. However, it's not long before she's captivated by rumors of the mythical Essex Serpent. Convinced it could be a never-before-discovered species, Cora sets out to uncover the truth...

This is something that Sarah echoed as she reflected on how The Essex Serpent book and show “influence” as well as “amplify” each other as distinct creations.

“I’m hoping that the two things exist together as companions,” she explained. “That the novel is different from the series and the series is different from the novel, and that they can exist together in this lovely symbiosis, influence each other and amplify each other.”

How to watch The Essex Serpent 

Anyone eager to see how The Essex Serpent is brought to life by the likes of Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston should head to Apple TV+ to watch the new adaptation. The show will air at 3am ET on Friday, May 13th and there’s even more good news for fans of the Sarah Perry book hoping to be captivated by the drama as the first two episodes will both land on the same day.

From then on, as fans of fellow Apple TV+ drama WeCrashed will be used to, the schedule will then become weekly at the same time and day for the remaining instalments. If you’ve yet to subscribe to Apple TV+ but can’t wait to delve into The Essex Serpent then now might just be the time to sign up for their 7-day free trial.

The Essex Serpent starring Claire Danes

(Image credit: Apple TV)

This is available only to those who haven’t signed up for the free trial previously and can be used to discover all that Apple TV+ has to offer before the subscription period ends, when it would then cost $4.99 per month. 

But if you’re on vacation when The Essex Serpent airs then sadly you won't be able to watch the show as you normally would at home, thanks to regional restrictions. Luckily there’s an easy solution and you can use a VPN to continue watching this hit drama. This is a handy bit of software that changes your IP address so that you can access on-demand content or live TV just as if you were at home.

Our sister site, TechRadar, has tested all of the major VPN services and they rate ExpressVPN as the absolute best. They say, “It’s compatible with all of your devices, supports most streaming services, and ranks among the fastest. You can even install it on devices like an Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Xbox, and PlayStation. So for a one-stop-shop, you can’t go wrong with Express.”

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If you've never installed a VPN before, don't worry, it's quick and easy. Just follow these three steps:


  1. Download and install the VPN following ExpressVPN's easy-to-follow instructions.
  2. Once you've installed your VPN, open the app and select your server location as anywhere in the UK.
  3. With your VPN installed and server location set to US or UK, you can now watch The Essex Serpent online. 

VPN disclaimer

(Image credit: Future)

How many episodes is The Essex Serpent 

There are six episodes of The Essex Serpent landing over the coming weeks, with the finale of the exciting adaptation set to air on Friday, June 10th. This gives fans plenty of time to immerse themselves not only in the Victorian world of the show and the brilliantly evocative performances of The Essex Serpent cast, but also Sarah Perry’s novel if they want to spot every significant detail along the way.

Where is The Essex Serpent filmed?

As might be expected given the setting of book - and the title! - the Apple TV+ show was filmed largely in the English county of Essex. Situated on the eastern side of the UK, Essex is close to London and has a North Sea coastline and marshes. With such distinctive geography and the location so crucial to the myth of the Essex Serpent in both novel and show, they reportedly visited a number of locations for the show.

Moored boats and yachts at low tide on Maldon Estuary in Essex

(Image credit: JohnDWilliams via Getty)

According to the Visit Maldon District website, the showrunners filmed in North Fambridge, Tollesbury and Maldon itself. The series also reportedly shot scenes in Alresford Creek, West Mersea and the Hythe Quay area. Whilst they report that Sarah Perry herself was inspired by a visit to Maldon during her childhood. 

“I recalled begging to be taken to Maldon as a child, where we’d watch the oxblood sails of the Thames barges go up and down the horizon,” she said. “All these memories, old and new, created a village that seems to me so real I am surprised I can’t go for a walk along the High Road.”

Emma is a Senior Lifestyle Writer with six years of experience working in digital publishing. Her specialist areas including literature, the British Royal Family and knowing all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and every streaming service out there. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, you can find Emma cooking and watching yet more crime dramas.