1890 An aristocrat from England, Lady Cornelia Locke (Blunt), comes to the Wild West in order to find the killers of her son. The woman is assisted by guide Eli Whipp (Chask Spencer), a Native American and former cavalry scout with his own secrets. Gradually, romantic feelings are born between the two strangers, threatening to wither away under the mercilessly bloody sun.
In a recent interview, Emily Blunt admitted that she hates the stereotypical “combat” perception of female heroines in modern scenarios. “Write me as a man, complex and muddy,” asked the star of “Killer” Denis Villeneuve and “Mary Poppins”. “The English” becomes the answer to the actress’s pleas: her first major role on television appears as a combination of vulnerability and desired moral conflict. Blunt shoots bows and rifles, dabbles with horses, changes Victorian dresses for cowboy garb with relief, while remaining true to the internal emotional conflict that surrounds her in the literal and moral wilderness.
The series was single-handedly written by Hugh Bleek, best known for The Noble Woman with Maggie Gyllenhaal, another relatively privileged man’s odyssey through unknown territory. Changing the Middle East to Nebraska, the director and screenwriter builds a much more brutal picture, where blood and visual suffering are not shy. At the same time, Blik manages to take into account, if not all, then most of the details of fem-optics, without which it would be archaic to start such an adventure. From the very first episode, Cornelia finds herself in a strict patriarchal world, which by the end of the story the heroine gradually formats for herself, forcing others to listen and contemplate the ongoing cycle of violence, changing it at a gallop. The heroine is looking for the killers of her son, who allegedly left to help his father in a foreign land, but the true reasons will turn out to be much more tragic. In the status of an outcast, Cornelia unites with a stranger among her own – during the Civil War, Eli from the indigenous people of the Pawnee was able to stand against racist foundations. Many years later, the man realizes that by doing so he betrayed his own interests. His pursuit of retribution and forgiveness aligns with Cornelia’s goals: the heroes embrace their outcast identities and fall in love through what Eli believes is the magical goodness of their souls in the midst of hellish carnage.
Behind sometimes tiring dialogues, large-scale battle scenes and deafeningly beautiful landscapes, the true intentions of the author can be traced – with care and even tenderness to undermine and rethink the genre. Archival footage emerging after the final series is reminiscent of: the first Western in history was filmed in the UK in 1899. The short film “Kidnapping by the Indians” told about the attack of Native Americans on the camp of whites. The English Bleek cancels the rhetoric of the colonial period, apologizes as reparations: he changes sides in an initially overwhelming ratio, describes the capture and bloody slaughter of the colonialists, where unity and mercy replaced money and an uncontrollable thirst to kill.
“The English” rightfully becomes one of the best roles in Blunt’s unfairly modest dramatic pantheon. She recalls that she deserves better stories and is not so in dire need of action franchises. Despite the profits, they significantly curb Emily’s acting power and erase her worthy roles from memory. Cornelia, meanwhile, returns to form both herself and the actress, leading to an inspiringly powerful result. Spencer accompanies her brilliantly – with regret, fearlessness, sacrifice and a deep spiritual connection. Ciarán Hinds and Toby Jones appear in fleeting cameos, the background unconditionally belongs to Ralph Spall (“Hot cops”), who gets into the shoes of a bloodthirsty antagonist, which is the reason for Cornelia’s journey. It is difficult to recall a character more vile in his impunity. Spall himself, after a plethora of episodic appearances in film and theater, has long deserved a full-fledged breakthrough, and The English generously provides him with such an opportunity, despite limited screen time.
Bleek’s script, despite the exact alignment of the era, does not always tonally coincide with neighboring elements – in 360 minutes the show often stumbles and wanders in circles, inevitably making you think of a shorter version in the form of a standard film. By the epilogue, what is happening evens out, retrospectively leaves a strong aftertaste and stubbornly inspires hope for humanity, which has practically no chance left.