I picked up ‘The English’ because Emily Blunt not only starred in it but was one of the Executive Producers. I wanted to see what sort of project she would stand behind and what kind of role she would play.
The publicity material made it sound like this was a conventional woman-seeks-revenge-on-the-man-who-killed-her-son Western. Ok, the woman was an English noblewoman and whoever she wanted revenge on seemed to be hanging out in Wyoming in 1890 and she was travelling across America alone, and I knew that she would somehow make a connection with an ex-Union soldier Pawnee guide, so it wasn’t quite conventional but it was still a revenge movie so I assumed it would have a nice linear plot: hate the bad guy, find the bad guy, kill the bad guy. Except it wasn’t like that at all. It was much, much more.
The storytelling slowed to a pace that felt like meandering from time to time and yet every scene was vivid and intense. The story moved backwards and forwards across fifteen years and who was connected to whom and how was not initially clear. But I never felt lost or abandoned. This wasn’t one of those series where the writers were making it up as they went along, waiting to see what the audience liked and hoping to push out to episode 100 before people lost interest. This was an intricately plotted, extremely personal story of loss and grief, of stolen futures and damaging pasts and the almost extinguished possibility of hope.
The plot was brave. It confronted the violence, racism, misogyny and lawlessness of the age without blinking. It did terrible things to its characters and it absolutely refused to give you any certainty of an HEA ending.
The acting was astonishingly good. Emily Blunt, Chaske Spencer and Rage Spall all delivered mesmerising performances that will stay with me for a long time, but they weren’t alone in the quality of their work. The story gave many of the supporting cast of characters opportunities to deliver at least one outstanding scene. At the start of the series, Toby Jones plays a stagecoach driver who you know isn’t going to be with us long and yet, while he’s there he makes his presence felt in a way that left tropes and clichés far behind.
From the opening frame ‘The English’ is visually stunning. The camerawork and lighting alone would have carried me through the story. The soundtrack was a mix of classical instrumental and modern ballad, which may sound odd but it worked and it was never intrusive.
Take a look at the trailer below and see if this is a series that you want to watch.