Hugo Blick’s western miniseries, The English is something of a meeting of subgenres. The sweeping odyssey of Emily Blunt’s Cornelia Locke, an English aristocrat who arrives in the wild west with the intention of avenging the death of her son, and Chaske Spenser’s Eli Whipp, a member of the Pawnee Nation and former cavalry scout with enemies to spare, who reluctantly (yet as an inevitable matter of dramatic course) becomes Locke’s road buddy, calls to mind the so called Golden Era of filmic westerns, á la John Ford’s Stagecoach. Yet, with its playful interweaving of subplots, Blick’s heightened dialogue, and its deliciously stylish brutality, The English perhaps more readily calls to mind the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone that bridged the gap between the black-and-white morality of Ford and the technicolour ambiguity of the revisionist westerns of Altman and Peckinpah.
A fabulously utilised extended cast realises a revolving door of repugnant characters at various stages of unshavenness, the kinds of faces on which Leone so loved to linger. A standout performance from Ciarán Hinds, for example, oozes with a vicious sleaze that instantly informs viewers they are not in a romantic idyll of opportunity, orienting them in a lawless cesspit where life is expendable. All the while, precisely constructed set-pieces offer a tension that can, at times, be disarmingly interwoven with a dash of melancholy pathos. There is still a place for romance in The English, however, as the Spanish landscapes that double up as the wild west (as they did for Leone so many times) are shot with a crystalline grandeur and vibrancy that is almost impossible to take one’s eyes off, supplemented by moody dialogue punctuated with modern spikes, mostly carved by the characteristically formidable Blunt.
It is the central relationship between Whipp, a character whom Tony Soprano may hastily cite as “the strong, silent type”, and Locke, a sharp, withering, adaptable character, that imbues the series with much of its intrigue, however. They metaphorise the duality, the meeting of worlds that has always been at the heart of the western, and their chemistry is playful, if slightly (thus far at least) formulaic.
The opening episodes of The English break no significant ground, but the series is a welcome reminder of the adaptability and beauty of the genre.
The English is released on BBC2 on 11th November 2022.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for The English here: