Growing up, I was always enamored with cowboy films and the idea of the Wild West. I blame my mum and grandmother for the influence, but there’s something iconic and compelling about those stories and the characters. You don’t have to look far to see that these action-adventure stories of the West have come back onto our screens with series like Westworld, Yellowstone, 1883, and Warrior. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Prime Video has thrown its hat into the ring with its limited series The English, starring Emily Blunt and Chaske Spencer.
The English, written and directed by Hugo Blick, tells the tale of Cornelia Locke (Blunt), who’s traveled across the Atlantic Ocean from England seeking revenge against the man responsible for her son’s death. But the trail across the West is brutal and unforgiving, forcing Locke to enlist the help of a retired soldier and native American, Eli Whipp (Spencer). Shocking absolutely no one, the two must overcome an avalanche of unlikely scenarios after encountering some bombastic adversaries in order for Cornelia to finally unleash her vengeance upon the man who wronged her.
It’s hard to avoid the elephant in the room that, unfortunately, most viewers will find when they encounter this series—the pacing is languid. The direction feels somewhat erratic and without conviction. However, what saves this show is that the latter half of the series really comes through with a much stronger plot and a litany of great rivals that Lock and Whipp have to battle.
Sadly though, I fear some of the audience may not make it even that far. While the series itself isn’t a burdensome watch, clocking in with six episodes and thankfully adopting a full season distribution drop on Prime Video, the binge could help balance the viewing data. There would be no chance this show would perform well on a weekly distribution model. By the end of episode three, the plot finally begins to thicken, and by episode four, everything gets amplified. But I fear this may be a little too late in the game for some audiences.
The most significant obstacle for The English, a prevailing problem in the industry, is that this feels like a movie that’s been chopped up into episodic segments and padded out. The results leave the series lagging at the beginning with some light action and a lot of exposition to develop the characters and their motivations. Additionally, the dialogue falls quite flat and is just another element that drags the pace of the early series to a grinding halt. Even as the show progresses, the script never really adds enough gravity to the characters of the situation.
Now where The English does regain footing is through its use of ostentatious villains. Rafe Spall and Nichola McAuliffe as Black Eyed Mog deliver some over-the-top performances that grab your attention and truly leap from the screen and hold your gaze. Yet I found myself wanting more of them and others like them, and it’s disappointing to see them underutilized. In addition, McAuliffe’s practical effects left my mouth hanging open with that disturbing visual reveal.
Spall goes further than I’ve ever seen him on screen and delivers an outstanding and unforgettable experience. He’s able to capture a character that precariously finds a balance between being utterly unhinged and carefully calculated—a deranged character that is a welcome evil to inject the ultimate level of conflict into the show.
I was also really encouraged to see the level of representation of Native Americans throughout the show, not only by calling out the various tribes and having them on screen but by giving these characters distinct roles to play and giving them a differentiation of depth. Whipp is an excellent example of a native man who made so many enemies against warring tribes, and after a troubled personal past, he was forced to join the army to survive. It was fantastic to see Blick avoid the trope of using Native Americans as a monolith and instead diversify them as complex individuals trying to survive in a dangerous world with a new population that is intent on stealing the land out from under their feet. The show also did a good job of taking the time through interactions to expose the entitled and blind colonization of the land by European settlers who believed they had a divine right to settle in the US.
Ultimately, The English isn’t the best western series. The pace is sluggish, the dialogue is flimsy, and the early plot lacks conviction. But, if you can be patient and hang in, episodes three through six get really good and introduce some truly deviant villains that inject much-needed action and intensity. The full-season drop and binge method should help, but realistically, the show takes far too long to ramp up a captivating story that will have you eager to press play on the next episode.
The English is a limited series available in full exclusively on Prime Video Friday, November 11th.
The English Season 1
- Rating - 7/107/10
The English isn’t the best western series. The pace is sluggish, the dialogue is flimsy, and the early plot lacks conviction. But, if you can be patient and hang in, episodes three through six get really good and introduce some truly deviant villains that inject much-needed action and intensity.