The English season 1 review – an unforgiving western

By Marc Miller
Published: November 7, 2022 (Last updated: November 17, 2022)
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Where The English separates itself from other westerns is in how it settles into its well-earned unpleasantness. Hugo Blick’s series is more unforgiving and unsavory than most.

We review the Prime Video series The English season 1, which does not contain spoilers.

The English is a streaming series not for the faint of heart. Hugo Blick‘s unforgiving and uncompromising Prime Video series captures the dangerous elements of the American West, where more than one thing can kill you besides bullets, knives, and arrows. While tackling themes of the genocide of Indigenous people and regrettable treatment of women, Blick tries to offer the anti-Western. The English series is as far from Tombstone as you can get.

The English season 1 follows the story of Cornelia Locke (Emily Blunt), who has chosen to travel from New Orleans to Wyoming to track down the man responsible for her son’s death. It’s a treacherous journey across middle America and the great plains. Full of bushwhackers, hucksters, con artists, thieves, and murderers, the Englishwoman is determined but naive. Case in point, she thinks money can buy her way through problems but never considers someone might kill her, toss her body aside, and take her money with them.

She arrives by stagecoach, with her driver Sebold Cusk (Toby Jones), at a place titled “Hotel” with the owner, Richard Watts (an unseemly Ciaran Hinds), greeting her. Watts has a former Pawnee scout in the United States Army, Eli Whipp (Twilight’s Chaske Spencer), tied up for being what he says was rude. Cornelia offers to pay for his freedom, which gets her a wicked overhand right from the Irishman. That’s when the men find the woman’s giant bag of cash. Is this all happenstance, or is this part of a coordinated effort to stop Cornelia from arriving at her destination?

This leads to an unlikely bond between Whipp and Cornelia, as they share a history of trauma. Blick’s vision of a Western is bleak and darker than most. Especially when it finally arrives at its destination. That credit goes to the expertly paced and camouflaged plot with a talent for misdirection. Case in point, there is a subplot involving a young Englishman (played by Tom Hughes) and his hired hands (Rafe Spall, giving the series’ breakout performance) looking to start his cattle empire in Wyoming, which keeps you guessing. Cornelia and Whipp’s backstories slowly converge in ways you do not expect without convolution.

The story has slowed to a simmer, but there are moments of greatness when Blunt sets the stage for some bold and powerful scenes. Her showdown with Hinds’ Watts is magnetic, as well as when she challenges any man who doubts her grit and toughness that is as far from being a weeping English rose. Blunt and Spencer have an old-fashioned chemistry that recalls great Hollywood westerns, but the themes of shared trauma are deeply layered here. And that’s where The English separates itself from other westerns in the way it settles into its well-earned unpleasantness.

There is an issue with Spencer’s stoic turn of Whipp. His character is a contradiction in terms, where he says he is proud to serve, but his backstory reveals atrocities that would make you rethink his position. While it does invoke character development by making him well-rounded, it doesn’t sit well since the viewer then wonders why he would be proud to serve as an example of genocide. I will give the show credit for exposing a white savior trope of saving Native Americans. Blick and the filmmaking team say this is nothing more than forcing Native American women and children into servitude.

Will people embrace that type of entertainment? The kind of one that attempts to pull the curtain back on the grand adventure of the American West trope. Clint Eastwood did this with Unforgiven and, in a lesser case, the Netflix series Godless. There is no feel-good moment in The English. In fact, quite the opposite, as it ends in a much more ominous place than one would expect.

Ultimately, the writing, lead performances, and notable supporting turns make The English series a journey worth taking, even if more unsavory than most.

What did you think of The English season 1? Comment below.

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