‘The English’ Series Review: A Slow-Burner That Never Quite Hits Its Target

Hugo Blick’s upcoming Western-drama miniseries takes audiences through the stunning landscapes of the Old West as powerhouse performer Emily Blunt dons the rifle in The English.

Blunt stars as Cornelia Locke, an Englishwoman arriving in the West to seek revenge on the man responsible for the death of her son. From this premise alone it sounds like we’re getting a portrayal from Blunt akin to Madeleine Stowe cirque Bad Girls; and like I’ve been saying for years, the world needs more female-led Western media – Wyatt Earp and damsels be gone! 

With a strong repertoire beneath her belt, Blunt already shoulders her way to the forefront of the casting call; she is a phenomenal star, whether that’s by diving headfirst into the action ahead of Tom Cruise, dominating office culture against Anne Hathaway, or blasting sound-sensitive aliens with a shotgun to protect her family. Blunt is wilful in every role she tackles, so putting her into the boots of a soon-to-be sharpshooting, equestrian isn’t entirely beyond belief.

But don’t get too eager with excitement here. While Blunt in her Bad Girls element is a sight to behold, The English sets a slow, sluggish pace before we can reach this point. We are introduced to the series with gorgeous, albeit desiccated, scenery; the camera work is smooth across the landscape, taking in the beauty of nature and topping off that true Western aesthetic. As we observe the sights before us, reality comes crashing down. There is minimal brutality but just enough to remind us this will be no cake walk.

Every man is for themselves it would seem; except for Chaske Spencer’s former cavalry scout and Pawnee Nation native, Eli Whipp. Let’s get into Spencer’s performance for a second. The mere presence of him, the soothing verge of his voice, is everything if not comforting. Whipp is a man full of mystery; he carries the weight of a troubled past in his bid to remain a lone wolf. We are drawn into the character, easily strung along by his clear compassion rooted beneath a hardened exterior.

Spencer heeds forth as much as Blunt in the first episode, opening up an intricate dynamic between the two actors. For the most part, the series spends time building up to action that is very rarely executed. There’s a heavy reliance on monologuing and delivery, which both stars excel at, but without the balance of suspense, The English tends to fall flat in many areas. Little actually grips onto our attention despite a tense opening episode; considering this a six-part miniseries, a huge contributing factor to its letdown is length.

The English may have benefitted slightly from an extended runtime. More so to enable the chance to further character development and deepen any relationships; and additionally, to explore the plot in a way that maintains engagement as opposed to cutting and cramming into the duration of a single episode. The tone incorporated into the series works in the same regard that it doesn’t. A surprising amount of humour is thread together; the politics of the era are touched upon; yet the action and tension of it all is underwhelming – as is the overall series.

Sadly, the target is missed once too often in this miniseries. Although performances are a definitive highlight, the story and pacing flounders with plenty of promise and little achievement. A progressive direction fails to come naturally. Even the idea of Blunt in full gun-toting getup can’t bring this one home.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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