There’s just something about Keira Knightley, sporting a corset and gazing out a frosted windowpane, that feels right. However, the Oscar nominee’s plans to return to her costume drama roots in the new AppleTV+ series The Essex Serpent have halted. Deadline reports that Knightley has exited the romantic period drama, adapted from Sarah Perry’s bestselling 2016 novel, weeks before production. She was set to executive-produce the series and star as Cora, a newly-widowed woman starting a new chapter in Victorian London after escaping an abusive marriage, per a press release.
Here’s what we know about the project’s delay, Knightley’s exit, and Perry’s book.
The Essex Serpent is based on an award-winning novel.
The Essex Serpent is based on a widely-acclaimed 2016 novel by Perry, which was named Book of the Year by the British Book Awards that year. Clio Barnard (The Selfish Giant, The Arbor) will direct the series, while Anna Symon (Deep Water, Mrs. Wilson) will serve as lead writer. Executive producers include Barnard, Symon, Jamie Laurenson, Hakan Kousetta, Patrick Waalters, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, and Andrea Cornwell as producer.
Set in 1893, the book finds Cora twisted into a messy romantic entanglement after she settles in Aldwinter, a small village in Essex. Her curiosity about a local creature called the Essex Serpent is piqued, according to a Publisher’s Weekly description of the plot, and during her search, she meets a married reverend named William Ransome, who’s hellbent on proving the Serpent is merely old wive’s tale. “This puts them at odds with one another, but, strangely, also acts as a powerful source of attraction between them,” the Publisher’s Weekly summary teases. Enter Luke Garrett, Cora’s former husband’s physician, and we’ve got ourselves a love triangle.
Knightley is no longer involved with The Essex Serpent.
Weeks after she was announced as an executive producer and lead of the show, she reportedly backed out from The Essex Serpent. Knightley’s rep issued a statement, via People, that credits her exit to “family reasons” amid the coronavirus pandemic. The statement reads:
Keira had to unfortunately pull out of The Essex Serpent due to family reasons. As the COVID cases increase in the U.K. and additional lockdown and restriction rules are potentially being imposed, with so many unknowns, there wasn’t a comfortable scenario for Keira that could be put in place for an extended period of child care required for the 4.5-month production.
Knightley shares two children with her husband of seven years, James Righton—Edie, 5, and Delilah, 1. Sources told Deadline that production was meant to begin at the end of November, but would be delayed as the creative team searched for a new Cora. Per the outlet, The Essex Serpent will now begin filming in 2021.
Further casting details and a release date are pending.
No other details about the show’s release date or casting information has been disclosed just yet. When Knightley was attached, some (me, mainly) hoped Matthew Macfadyen would take a break from filming Succession to complete his Knightley trilogy, following Pride & Prejudice and Anna Karenina.
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