The Serpent: Jenna Coleman stars in BBC series trailer
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All eight episodes of The Serpent are available to stream and download on Netflix and the BBC iPlayer now. Billy Howle portrays Herman Knippenberg, the Dutch junior diplomat who played a vital role in building a case against French serial killer Charles Sobhraj. Did Billy Howle meet Herman Knippenberg? Howle spoke to Express.co.uk and other press about taking on the role.
WARNING: This article contains spoilers about The Serpent
Did Billy Howle meet the real Herman Knippenberg?
British actor Billy Howle portrays the real Herman Knippenberg in The Serpent.
Knippenberg, a former Dutch diplomat was posted to the Dutch Embassy Bangkok, Thailand when he came across Charles Sobhraj in the early 1970s.
At the time, he was looking into the disappearance of two Dutch travellers, Henk Bintanja, 29 and Cornelia Hemker, 25.
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He soon discovered the couple had been murdered and had been wrongly identified as two missing Australian backpackers.
With a killer on the loose and several Western tourists missing or dead, Knippenberg was determined to catch the killer.
As seen in The Serpent, he began to build a case against Charles Sobhraj after being altered to his suspicious behaviour by one of Charles neighbours, Nadine Gires (Mathilde Warnier).
Alongside his wife Angela (Ellie Bamber) and the help of Nadine and Remi Gires alongside Belgian diplomat Paul Siemons (Tim McInnery), Knippenberg was able to gather evidence, pointing to Sobhraj as a dangerous serial killer.
However, Sobhraj was a master of deceit and was able to evade being caught on several occasions, even escaping from prison at least twice.
It was not until 2003 Knippenberg’s hard work and the extraordinary case against Sobhraj would help secure his incarceration.
In 2003, Sobhraj returned to Nepal, where he was suspected of killing of American backpacker Connie Jo Boronzich, 29, and Canadian tourist Laurent Carrière, 26.
As seen in The Serpent, Sobhraj was on the verge of being a free man after being questioned by the Nepal police.
After hearing of Charles arrest, Knippenberg managed to fax some key evidence to the Nepal police at the last second, incriminating Sobhraj in the deaths of Boronzich and Carrière
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Knippenberg had also over to the Nepal police Marie-Andrée’s (Jenna Coleman) statement to the Indian police when the couple was arrested in 1976, where she admitted they had both visited Nepal in 1975.
Today, Charles Sobhraj, 76, is serving out a life sentence in Kathmandu prison, Nepal.
Fortunately, Howle was able to meet the real Herman Knippenberg, a moment he described as “enlightening.”
He said: “When I spoke to Herman, it was incredibly enlightening… not only [for] the story, but his perception of the story and the events that took place are so far removed from my own experience in life that it wasn’t immediately relatable.
“So there was a lot of groundwork that needed to be done and I was very fortunate in being able to build that bond with Herman quite early on because he was able to fill in those gaps and increase my understanding of the situation.”
Howle also revealed he asked Knippenberg why he decided to pursue Herman for so long.
He recalled: “It’s a sort of moral question: what drives a man to do such heinous things as Charles Sobhraj has done? And interestingly, when I spoke to the real Herman, he said, ‘Who cares?’ And that was quite amazing for me to hear, and I kind of understood straight away what he meant.
“Well really no, it’s not about trying to understand what drives him [Sobhraj] to do that, it’s about stopping it. And you know in a sense, how dare another human being do that to innocent people?”
The real Knippenberg has now retired and lives in New Zealand with his wife Vanessa. He has kept all of his files on Charles Sobhraj updated, catalogued and open to this day.
Who is Billy Howle?
Viewers may recognise Billy Howle from his role as Caden Finch in BBC’s MotherFatherSon.
In MotherFatherSon, he starred alongside Helen McCrory, Ciarán Hinds and Elena Anaya.
He is also well known for starring opposite Saoirse Ronan in the 2017 film On Chesil Beach as Edward Mayhew.
Howle portrayed Edward, Prince of Wales in Netflix’s Outlaw King in 2018 and landed the role of Rey’s father in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The Serpent is streaming on Netflix and BBC iPlayer now
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