Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3/5
The English Game presents itself as a sport biopic, boasting a dive back through time to the origins of football and witnessing the evolution of this Gentleman’s Elite game into the behemoth that it’s now become in modern times. This idea is often overshadowed by the tendency to slip into more of a traditional period piece, complete with melodrama, romance and a few sexual innuendos for good measure. The result then is something that feels a lot more like a lite version of Downtown Abbey, with a glossy facade of football painted over the top.
The story itself takes place in the late 1800’s, as a working class football team in Darwen bring in two Scottish players, Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love. Together, they change the fortunes of the town and with it, put pressure on the elite Old Etonians, who have their strings pulled by Arthur Kinnaird, in a bid to lift the prestiguous FA Cup. With transfers, money, class wars and everything in between thrown into the 6 episodes, there’s an awful lot going on in The English Game.
This multifaceted story ultimately serves to dilute the footballing rags-to-riches narrative in favour of several subplots that don’t do much in terms of plot progression. From Arthur’s wife Alma going on a crusade to save a baby from adoption to Fergus’ Father stumbling down from Glasgow to cause havoc, these subplots feel like busy work a lot of time, and at its worst take away from the footballing story.
This ultimately comes to a head during the penultimate episode, with a solid 40 minutes used to build up toward two big semi-final matches before we fade to black and see nothing. It’s not a deal breaker but given a lot of the drama comes from the on-pitch action, it’s a shame the creators didn’t capitalise on this and show more of the rise through the FA Cup.
Having said that, the characters themselves are enough to see you through the 6 episodes and although it’s a little on-the-nose at times, the commentary on class and the distinct divide between the two sides is strong, ringing through every decisive scene in the show. These cuts between the two sides does well to keep things interesting but at times the show holds back from really diving into the gritty after-effects from some of these issues.
Visually though, The English Game looks fantastic. The costume design, the musical score and even the dialogue does a good job capturing the time period, even if some of the contrived scenes early on with the first football match counteract the more serious, nuanced depiction of the time during the latter periods of the show.
Ultimately though, The English Game is not quite gritty enough to be an outstanding period drama and too watered down to feel like a solid sport biopic. There is enjoyment to be had here, if you can avoid some the glaring historical inaccuracies, but the show is unlikely to leave a lasting appeal when you’re done with it.
It’s not bad enough to feel like an own goal, nor is it a 4-3 thriller in the Champions League. Instead, The English Game plays out as a mildly entertaining 1-1 draw, with enough talking points but not enough for it to be remembered as a stand-out match at the end of the season.