‘When Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston were cast I was in shock’: Sarah Perry on The Essex Serpent

As an adaptation of her bestselling novel comes to screens, Sarah Perry describes the joys of being on set – and how the production restored her faith in storytelling

In March 2021, I was driven by a stranger down to the Essex coast, and there I found myself at the end of the 19th century, in a place that had never existed, full of people who’d never been born.

At any rate, that was the impression; in fact, I’d been deposited in a field on Mersea Island, which is cut off from the Essex mainland by a causeway inaccessible at high tide. Filming was under way for an adaptation of my novel The Essex Serpent, and since Mersea was one of the locations making do for Aldwinter, the imagined village where the novel is set, I’d been invited to take a look. The field had been colonised by a series of trucks and trailers, and everywhere I looked crew members were dashing about with clipboards and headsets, occasionally interspersed with actors in top hats, or in petticoats inches deep in Essex mud.

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