The Serpent - The Story of Interpol’s Most Wanted Man in the 70’s – Charles Sobhraj - By Sabrina Joshi

The Serpent, the new BBC/Netflix drama, tells the chilling true story of Charles Sobhraj, the infamous French serial killer who terrorized the Asian continent in the ’70s. This deceptive, cold-blooded murderer is portrayed by French/Algerian actor, Tahar Rahim, who recently received a Golden Globe nomination for his role in the legal drama, The Mauritanian.

Created by Tom Shankland and Richard Warlow, The Serpent is unlike any other serial killer drama. Posing as a gem dealer, Sobhraj travelled across Thailand, India, Pakistan, and Nepal, carrying out a series of killings. He was accompanied by his girlfriend, Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman) and Ajay Chowdhury (Amesh Edireweera), who were his co-conspirators in these heinous crimes. Together, they drugged and murdered over a dozen young western backpackers travelling on the hippie trail in Southeast Asia. 

Besides documenting Sobhraj’s horrific acts, the eight-episode limited series also digs into his complicated past. Sobhraj was born in Saigon to an Indian father and a Vietnamese mother. After his father abandoned him, he and his mother moved to Paris, where he was raised. He spent his teenage years as a petty criminal in Paris, but his criminal schemes grew to new heights after moving to India. Sobhraj evaded the law for many years until Herman Knippenberg, a Dutch diplomat (Billy Howle), got on his trail, which led to Sobhraj’s first big arrest in India.

Rahim was very familiar with Sobhraj’s story before taking on the role. He recalls reading a biography about Sobhraj when he was sixteen. He says, “I was a young guy who wanted to be an actor, and after reading this book, I thought I’d like to play this guy”. It’s incredibly ironic that twenty years later, he was offered the opportunity to play the Serpent himself. 

However, Rahim admits preparing for this role was quite challenging. He explains, “I usually build my characters from inside, but in the case of Charles, I couldn’t do this because I couldn’t relate to him at all in any way”.

This brilliant recreation of Sobhraj’s dreadful story and Rahim’s bone-chilling portrayal of the master manipulator will definitely stay with you.