What happened to Jenna Coleman’s character in The Serpent, Marie-Andrée Leclerc, in real life?
Jenna Coleman is currently lighting up our screens as the stylish – but ultimately evil – girlfriend and accomplice of real-life serial killer Charles Sobhraj in the BBC drama series, The Serpent. Yet unlike many of those whose notoriety is tied to their murderous partner – from Myra Hindley to Maxine Carr – little is known about what became of Marie-Andrée Leclerc.
In the series itself, at least what has aired so far, it is difficult to know how complicit Leclerc was in the murders of backpackers on the hippie trail of Thailand in the mid-1970s, perpetrated by her partner and his other accomplice, Ajay Chowdhury. As she testified after being caught, she claimed to have been coerced into any involvement, such as drugging the Dutch couple seen in the first episode of the series. Yet she did elude capture alongside Sobhraj by posing as his female victims in forged identity documents.
In 1976, the couple were finally caught in New Delhi, and were sentenced to 12 years for their crimes in 1980. However, Leclerc appealed the decision, and was released on the condition that she stayed in India. She released a book, Je Reviens (‘I will be back’), recounting her side of the story, claiming to have never loved Sobhraj. In 1983, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and was given permission to return home to Canada to die. She died a year later in 1984, aged 38 years old.
As Jenna Coleman has said herself when discussing the role, it is this mystery over whether or not Leclerc knew what she was doing that makes the character so captivating. She told Entertainment Daily: ‘I think the [question of] ‘is she a victim or is she not’, how much of her was brainwashed, how much of it was a choice to be there and a choice to live in the delusion. I think that’s what’s really interesting, to make the choices that she made in keeping this reality in a way that she could so that she could keep existing and being with Charles.
‘I think what’s really interesting is it’s almost like she created her own narrative, and she’s living in her delusion, really. So I guess for me it was more about squashing the truth, it was kind of like not accepting the reality of what was actually going on and meanwhile she’s kind of almost like living her own movie star life in her mind, which made it really complicated in a great way, in a really great way.’
Born in Quebec in 1945, Leclerc was a trained medical secretary and is thought to have met Sobhraj while travelling in India in 1975. The two fell in love, and after she returned to Canada, he begged her to join him in Thailand, even buying her plane ticket.