Television Review: The English

Westerns just don’t get made as much as they used to. There was a time when the genre was everywhere you looked, but good westerns only come out now and then. The English, streaming now on Amazon Prime, does a great job taking tropes from westerns and blending them with a more modern approach, and the result was really fantastic.

Starring Emily Blunt and Chaske Spencer, the six-episode series traces the efforts of a woman to find revenge on the man who killed her child, and the journey of a Pawnee veteran trying to make a place for himself in the new normal of America in 1890. The acting is superb, the characters complex, and the cinematography is gorgeous. I also enjoyed the soundtrack, especially the credits number for the final episode. (A cover of Paul Simon’s American Tune by Crooked Still, linked at the bottom of this post.)

The series feels very real, depicting life on the frontier with no filters. Is it accurate? Hard to say. I know the creators worked with Pawnee advisors throughout the filming, so I’d say it’s definitely more true to life than the classic Hollywood western. I’d like to think the west wasn’t so bloody and dangerous, but having written books set in the late 1800s and done a fair bit of research into the time period, I tend to think it was more violent than not.

As I said at the start, The English injects some modern storytelling approaches, slowly unspooling its plot by showing things in the present and the past. It’s easy to make assumptions about character early on, only to discover later how wrong you were. Again, this felt true to life. All we see is a snapshot of each other’s lives. Look at any one snapshot, and the same person could seem a hero or a villain, depending on your interactions with them. I enjoyed the mechanic in the series, especially how it kept me guessing and wanting to know more.

It should be said the series isn’t for everyone. It’s violent and bloody, though not pervasively. There are some gory scenes, and it touches on some unsettling subjects. That said, if you’re up for it, it really is a fantastic show, and better still for being entirely self-contained. You don’t get to the end of the sixth episode and reach a huge cliffhanger. It’s one story.

10/10 I loved it.


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