“The English,” written and directed by Hugo Blick, is a revisionist take on the classic Western. The series deals with themes of violence and revenge set against the backdrop of the consequences of imperialism and colonization. Set in 1890, the story follows two heroes: Eli Whipp, played by Chaske Spencer, and Lady Cornelia Locke, played by Emily Blunt.
Eli is a Pawnee native who is on a journey to Nebraska to claim the land he is owed for his army service. Cornelia is a woman out for revenge, who travels from England to Kansas while following the man whom she believes is responsible for the death of her son. Her vengeful intentions seem to precede her, as there is also a plot to murder her and to pin the murder on Eli. As the plot continues, their fates and quests of reward and vengeance are definitively intertwined. Their companionship gives way to a more passionate and tender relationship, subverting a traditional romance for an intimate emotional connection.
The series is filled with some brilliant performances and the two leads are phenomenal. Spencer gives an incredible emotionally-refined performance; his character is quite dark and brooding, but he subtly brings in the grief and rage of a man trapped in an unfortunate circumstance. Blunt also delivers an excellent performance, effortlessly displaying the elegance and gritty determination of her character. Rafe Spall, playing the role of David Melmont, emulates his character with the perfect amount of operatic villainy and creates a truly terrifying character in the process.
Blick’s script is definitely monumental to the success of the series, remaining subtle and understated which is key to enhancing the beauty of the show. The dialogue is pared-down, allowing for the physical performances and chemistry between the actors to play a major role, rather than solely relying upon spoken dialogue.
Although the pacing may seem a bit slow at first, it becomes clear that the slow build of tension is necessary for the characters and story to truly develop and shine. This buildup eventually boils over into an emotional and heightened epilogue, which turns out to be the perfect end for the series.
However, one of the flaws of the series is its complex story structure that at times, tends to confuse audiences who may find it difficult to follow. The plot occasionally diverges into various sub-plots, which takes away from the overall cohesiveness of the show.
The cinematography in the series, led by Arnaus Valls Colomer, is also a standout. Picturesque frames of the never-ending terrain and the open sky, occasionally grotesque bloody and heady violence and the classic low-angle shots of heroes and villains dominate the series, making it a stunning work filled with cinematic allusions and homages to Western films of the past.
Ultimately, despite some of the confusion with the plot, the breadth, artistic vision and sheer ambition of the series combined with its labyrinthine tale of secrets, revenge and hidden pasts make it a compelling and captivating watch.