Jenna Coleman talks to Kelly-Anne Taylor and Michael Hodges about what drew Leclerc to serial killer Charles Sobhraj

Friday 1st January 2021 at 9:00 a.m.

If you’re one of the thousands of British people who can’t get to the beaches of Southeast Asia as usual this winter, you can travel on your television

The Serpent is a stylishly exuberant crime drama with Jenna Coleman from Thailand in the 1970s. The eight-part series was shot largely on site and shows all signs of mass tourism in the 21st century Century It’s as visually enticing as you’d expect. “We shot in fantastic locations,” says the Victoria star, who traded crinolines and corsets for torches and statement blouses for the year-long shoot that was inevitably interrupted by the global pandemic “We went to Hua Hin [a fashionable Thai beach resort] and a remarkable national park for a lake scene. It was absolutely breathtaking there”

But behind the beauty and the elaborately recreated costumes, the drama tells the story of a series of horrific crimes

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The snake unfolds against the backdrop of the ‘hippie trail’ of the 1970s, when thousands of Western backpackers arrived in search of perfect beaches, plenty of sex and drugs, and a dose of Far Eastern spirituality that unfortunately left some vulnerable to unscrupulous predators such as the notorious murderer Charles Sobhraj (French actor Tahar Rahim) – the snake of the title – and his accomplice Marie-Andrée Leclerc, played by Coleman

In a deadly rampage through South Asia, Sobhraj, a jewel thief, drug dealer and, if it suited him, murderer, lured at least ten Western travelers to their deaths, along with other women, the obsessed French-Canadian Leclerc was a willing accomplice

Sometimes the couple’s victims were told that cheating was easy to make money with before they were killed Others were poisoned for their passports on a whim “It was not an easy piece to play because how to portray someone who has no empathy? ” says Coleman, “I don’t know what it is [to be like this] and I think it’s impossible for people like us to know”

Although Leclerc was equally complicit, it was Sobhraj, an extremely self-conscious borderline psychopath with a deep dislike for the hippie trail counterculture, who handled the murders. “He did terrible things,” says Rahim, who appeared in the 2009 film A Prophet when the fictional cross-border criminal became famous, “I don’t glorify him, but it’s fascinating to study these people’s psychology. Even if you’re not an actor, you’ll find that as a kid he was a street kid, that of his father, of his country.” abandoned and abused by his mother. One step at a time he fell into this terrible thing – killing people ”

The murders often had a performative, attention-grabbing dimension. The bodies of his female victims in Thailand (there were more in other countries) were found separately in brightly patterned bikinis, which earned Sobhraj his other nickname in Thailand, the bikini killer “It is terrible and fascinating at the same time, “says Rahim.” People feel repulsed and fascinated when they think of Leclerc and Sobhraj “

If Rahim’s portrayal of Sobhraj in the fashion of the day makes a very bad man look very good – after all, part of the initial appeal to his victims – it is due to careful teamwork. “The costume designer did a lot of research on the fashion of the time “Says Rahim” And in the pictures we had of Charles and Marie-Andrée, they tried as much as possible to copy their style “

This style relies heavily on sunglasses “The colors were pretty amazing,” says Coleman. “We had such a choice – I should have borrowed something from the set” (“I took some!” says Rahim)

Coleman went way beyond the looks of her character and got lost in Leclerc’s diaries, which covered both the time of the murders and before. “The way she lived was completely deceptive,” says Coleman. “It was about everything pushing away and not letting the truth in. She was obsessed and incredibly emotional. I think she was depressed and certainly unstable at times. She lived in this state of conflict and did not acknowledge the murders. Her subconscious was about putting the truth away. ”

Could Sobhraj’s attractiveness, as intensely played by Rahim, be enough to hypnotize Leclerc? “I know,” says Coleman, “why didn’t she go away? How could she stay What about Charles? I think Charles had this power over women Women seemed not only to be in love with him but also fanatical about him.In her previous life, Leclerc was religious and the way she writes in her diary felt like that obsessive devotion to Charles to The way she focuses on what Charles is doing and how Charles treats her – it’s like every waking thought is that utter addiction to him She is completely connected to him no matter what he does, including im Extent of the murder ”

This interview originally appeared in Radio Times magazine, for the biggest interviews and best TV deals, subscribe to Radio Times now and don’t miss a copy

The Serpent will air on BBC One tonight.If you want to see more, check out our TV guide

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The snake

World news – GB – Jenna Coleman of the snake in exotic places, in the fashion of the 70s and as Sobhraj’s accomplice Marie-Andrée Leclerc