Is The Serpent based on a true story? What is The Serpent about?

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The Serpent is streaming on the BBC iPlayer and has finally landed on Netflix worldwide after three months of waiting.. Is The Serpent based on a true story? Express.co.uk has everything you need to know.

WARNING: This article may contain spoilers about The Serpent

Is The Serpent based on a true story?

The Serpent on BBC One tells the harrowing true story of French serial killer, thief and fraudster Charles Sobhraj (played by Tahir Rahim).

The series follows the cat and mouse chase between Dutch junior diplomat-turned-detective Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle) and Sobhraj.

Knippenberg was working at the Dutch embassy in Bangkok when he came across the case of a missing Dutch couple.

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The Serpent was directed by Tom Shankland and written by Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay, who first began working on the series in 2013.

To create the series, they spoke closely with the real Knippenberg.

Executive producer Preethi Mavahalli said: “We wrote to Herman, who wrote back to us and Tom and I had a couple of really long conversations with Herman.

“And he kind of gave a whole side of the story that we didn’t know about that really wasn’t in the public domain.

“And I think that’s when the story started to emerge this cat and mouse story between Charles and Herman.”

Known as The Serpent, Bikini Killer and the Splitting Killer, Sobhraj is believed to have killed over a dozen people across southeast Asia.

He preyed mainly on Western tourists and in 1976, is believed to have killed approximately 10 people by poisoning, strangulation, drowning, stabbing or in some cases, being burned alive.

His known victims were Teresa Knowlton, Vitali Hakim, Stephanie Parry, Cornelia Hemker and Henricus Bitanja, Laurent Carriere, Connie Bronzick, Allen Jacobs and Jean-Luc Solomon.

Writer Richard Warlow said: “I think one of the very, early on, something became apparent to me was that when much of the sort of the telling of the Charles Sobrhaj story had been conducted very much from what you might call the ‘Charles perspective’. And he’s a man who was always very eager to get interviews and tell his side of events.

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“And as a result, we come to accept the Charles’ narratives that these were drug dealers, drug smugglers, drug addicts, and somehow sort of not worthy of other people’s compassion or attention.

“And that was something that obviously in the real event that was something that Herman himself took issue with, and something that we as storytellers very much wanted to take issue with.

“So as a result, we do spend time getting to know these young people before they meet Charles and Marie [Leclerc] and trying as much as we can to slightly if it’s not too big a word, reclaim what might have been the truth of their experience before the moment that they met Charles.”

The Serpent follows Sobhraj throughout the 1970s, when he had evaded arrest on several occasions and was always on the run.

In the spring of 1975, Sobhraj met Canadian medical secretary Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman).

Leclerc soon became his main accomplice in many of his scams but had denied being aware of any killings.

In July 1976 in New Delhi, Sobhraj and Leclerc alongside Barbara Smith and Mary Ellen Eather tricked a group of French students into accepting them as tour guides.

Sobhraj then drugged the group, which took effect faster than anticipated and when some of the students realised what was happening to their peers, they overpowered Sobhraj and called the police.

Two years later, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison in India alongside Leclerc.

In 2003, he returned to Nepal where he was spotted on the street by a journalist and arrested two days later in the casino of the Yak and Yeti hotel.

His motives for returning to Nepal remain unknown today.

Sobhraj was tried for the murder of American backpacker Connie Jo Boronzich, 29, and Canadian tourist Laurent Carrière, 26. They had been killed between in late December 1975 in Nepal.

He received a life sentence for the two killings in August 2004, and he has been incarcerated in Kathmandu prison ever since.

Leclerc died on April 20, 1984. She was 38-years-old.

Director Shankland first heard about Sobhraj when he was 19-year-old and visiting Nepal and admitted the story had always been an “obsession in some way”.

He said: “I think on the journey, one thinks, ‘Wow, is this a great movie,’ but truthfully, there is so many people who are so interesting, that are part and parcel of this whole amazing tale.

Shankland continued: “The first exciting thing to kind of dawned on everyone is that it felt like the canvas of a big sprawling, the beautiful TV show would give us a chance to meet, Charles, meet many of the other extraordinary people on this journey over eight hours and try to do justice to some very remarkable people and extraordinary events on the way.

“So I’m thinking about difficult things that happened between then and getting it onto the screen.”

The Serpent is streaming on the BBC iPlayer and Netflix now 

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