What You Want & What You Need -| Review Score – 5/5
Path of the Dead -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Vultures on the Line -| Review Score – 4/5
The Wounded Wolf -| Review Score – 3/5
The Buffalo Gun -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Cherished -| Review Score – 3/5
Hugo Blick’s western miniseries The English is a sweeping, pulsating drama as tender as it is gritty–largely due to the slow-burning chemistry between leads Emily Blunt and Chaske Spencer. As an episodic venture, the Prime Video series hits all the right notes–adventure, romance, revenge–but starts to crumble when viewed as one cohesive arc.
In The English, the landscape of the 1890 Old West isn’t at all black and white. It’s a dark and gritty country, where the law is, essentially, every man for himself. White European settlers are stealing and killing for land, or else trying to stay out of others’ way as much as possible. Native Americans are boldly defending their home land, while others will do whatever they can just to survive–even if it means betraying their own people. The western sets up a complex setting for examining racial, class, and gender conflict.
Our protagonists fit the bill for this morally ambiguous landscape perfectly, as two broken people resisting a broken world. Ex-cavalry scout and Pawnee man Eli Whipp (Spencer) wants his Nebraska land back, but has to make ethical sacrifices in order to navigate a world unkind to him. So too does Cornelia (Blunt), an English lady set on braving a harsh new land to seek revenge on a man responsible for her son’s death.
The journey Cornelia and Eli take reflects cultural tensions of the period–and the gorgeous, sweeping shots of scenery bring our attention to the centerpoint of that tension: the land. The English is as much a story of this place as it is of these characters, how the sought-after West unites and divides people in mysterious ways. Stunning cinematography invites us to revel in land still largely unlived in, which further leads us to reevaluate American history. “How did the country fall from such beauty?” the show asks, but doesn’t push itself further than half-baked critique of colonialism and capitalism.
In a word, the western is simply beautiful. But that beauty can be a crutch. The English will draw you in with gorgeous visuals, intrigue, and romantic tension. But the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. Episodically, it delivers on beauty and adventure. But as a whole, it discards characters and arcs too quickly. It doesn’t resolve its romance and mystery in a satisfying way. The end of The English left me wanting more from it–both as a revenge/redemption story and as a love story.
At one point in the series, Eli gifts Cornelia with a compass, a fitting symbol for a series about not knowing where you need to be–just the direction you’re going. As Cornelia states at the beginning of the series, there’s a “difference between what we want and what we need.” It’s kind of like this series. The drama, the romance, the intensity of the setting–it’s nearly everything you could want in a western miniseries. It’s where we end up, however, that doesn’t give us the lasting messages we need.
Verdict - 7.5/10