The Apple TV+ limited series from See-Saw Films follows London widow Cora Seaborne (Claire Danes), who moves to Essex to investigate reports of a mythical serpent. Seaborne forms a surprising bond of science and skepticism with the local pastor (Tom Hiddleston), but when tragedy strikes, locals accuse her of attracting the creature.
When O’Halloran and Stefánsdóttir boarded the project, they looked to evoke the dark depths of Victorian England through the utilization of both electro acoustics and strings. “From our first conversations with director Clio Bernard, we knew we would be creating something layered and multidimensional,” the composers told Deadline in a joint statement. “This was our first collaboration together as composers and it allowed us to explore subjects like fear of the unknown, the Victorian era where science and religion were in constant conflict, and the complexity of superstition.”
O’Halloran and Stefánsdóttir noted that they were fortunate to receive the full trust of Bernard, who offered them the space to experiment. Added the duo: “Even though it was a period piece set in late 1800’s, we took a modern approach to the music and how we wrote and recorded it, accentuating the sound of the wood and bow of the strings, and we went deep into capturing the sound limits of the cello and electro acoustic manipulation.”
O’Halloran is an American pianist and composer who won an Emmy in 2015 for his main title theme to Amazon’s dramedy Transparent. He was also nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award and a Critics’ Choice Award for his score to Lion, written in collaboration with Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka). His film career began when Sofia Coppola invited him to contribute to Marie Antoinette, and he has since worked on many films and TV shows, including Drake Doremus’ Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Like Crazy and Marc Turtletaub’s Puzzle. He also scored George Tillman Jr.’s The Hate U Give and joined forces with Bryan Senti for Nick Murphy’s six-part Sky TV series, Save Me. He and Bertelmann reconvened to collaborate on Netflix’s The Old Guard, and again on the BBC’s 2019 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Stefánsdóttir is an Icelandic composer of music for multimedia, as well as a songwriter and an electronic musician. She graduated with an M.A. degree in film scoring from New York University in 2017, and has since scored projects including HBO’s series We’re Here, FX’s Y: the Last Man, and Ry Russo-Young’s romance The Sun Is Also a Star.
The Essex Serpent premiered on Apple TV+ on May 13. The series based on Sarah Perry’s bestselling novel of the same name was adapted for the screen by BAFTA Award-nomated writer Anna Symon. Barnard and Symon also exec produced it alongside Jamie Laurenson, Hakan Kousetta, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Patrick Walters.
Listen to O’Halloran and Stefánsdóttir’s track “The Serpent” from The Essex Serpent by clicking above.