There’s always something about the Wild West that has been turned into a more “heroic” showcase of the good Sherrif taking down the bad. Even when people are being shown at their worst, there’s generally a very specific view that is offered with these kinds of stories to not lose the audience in the depravity reflected of a time we barely can imagine the way it was lived. The English doesn’t hold back in that regard to offer the bleak view you’d expect from that time. At its center, it keeps two hopeful souls to center the story’s most bleak moments.
There is something honest about the portrayal of that time and the people that lived through it. In this story, there’s no true right or wrong but people simply trying to find a way to survive. At its center, we have the simple story of Emily Blunt‘s Cornelia Locke and Chaske Spencer‘s Sgt. Eli Whipp. Two strangers meet at a crossroads of fate which ends up intertwining in unlikely ways throughout their journey. There’s a tough balance this story has to handle to not fall into rather questionable territory, but it manages to keep that sturdy line throughout.
The series is on the slower side of pacing, which is surprising given the six episodes given to explore a rather simple story. At many points in time, a story is being spun beyond our leading two which works at times but also leaves you wanting more from the dynamic that was set up. A lot of time is spent in this time period with an unflinching eye that does evoke a “who do you trust” mentality in the viewer throughout. It’s the series’ most effective weapon to establish a believable world these characters live in and the challenges set given their own unique backgrounds.
Spencer‘s performance is strong throughout, as Whipp is put into positions that ostracize him from either side of the conflict in this world. Once the safety belt is off early on, the series doesn’t waste time to showcase just how brutal this world is and it adds to the bleak outlook of this time period. He’s put to the test often, and there’s a subtlety in how he handles the character; fitting for the world he’s living through. We see how these challenges try to push him in one direction, while he tries to stay true to his own path.
On the other side, Emily Blunt gives us the look at a person changing as a result of events unfolding around her. She starts off innocent in a world ready to devour her. It almost does if it weren’t for surprising help that would push her further down a path of change. It’s refreshing to see a character that starts off on the meeker side and see her adapt to this dangerous place. She still shows her softer side throughout and it’s not that consequences don’t affect her; she simply has to live with it for as long as possible.
There are some moments where the story tends to take its time before suddenly rushing. Given its mostly slow pace, it feels like a suprrising rush through plotlines that seemingly are relevant before completely left behind. It also seems to set up a mystery with additional characters that sometimes get sidelined and creates this uncertainty about how exactly it’ll tie together. At times the story feels like it could’ve been told with fewer episodes, but in others, it feels just right.
It should be highlighted that this bleak story is punctuated by the irony of its beautiful shots. Some of the beautiful shots act as a contrast to the dark world they live in. The cinematography is worth highlighting at times even if it does seem to rely mainly on dialogue. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but there’s no necessity to do so. Director Hugo Blick makes great use of shot composition to build up tension, which is highlighted by a great score by Federico Jusid.
The English is a recommendation for those that enjoy something with a slower pace and more personal storytelling. It’s not quite your typical Western but doesn’t shy away from elements that are familiar to fans of the genre. What makes it stand out is how it tells a bleak story on a beautiful canvas, not shying away from the darker sides of a world long forgotten while still trying to keep that glimmer of hope alive. We all face our personal demons, but sometimes the question is if the world around us makes us confront them.