‘The English’: Emily Blunt braves the frontier in an engrossing but gruesome Western
In the Prime Video series, she’s an upper-crust woman from across the pond, hunting a killer with the help of a Pawnee scout.
An upper-crust Englishwoman named Cornelia Locke takes an arduous journey across the pond in 1890 and eventually makes her way via carriage to Wyoming, wearing a pink dress and a fancy hat and a veil, carrying a satchel filled with cash and trusting her fate to an obviously nefarious group that includes a grinning idiot who plays the squeeze box upon her arrival in an isolated and newly created and yet-to-be-populated town.
We’re starting to believe you didn’t think this through, Cornelia.
Before the day is done, violence and blood and horror and mud and dust and evil and dirty dealings have landed in Cornelia’s lap, and it pretty much stays that way throughout the six-episode run of “The English,” a sometimes convoluted and often brutal Western about an unforgiving territory and the killers, con artists, schemers, dreamers, monsters and oh yes one or two decent souls who navigated the land in the late 20th century, looking for their piece of the new American dream.
With Emily Blunt delivering a magnetic, all-in performance as Cornelia and Chaske Spencer proving to be a formidable co-star as the Pawnee Nation scout who keeps crossing paths with Cornelia and eventually becomes her most trusted friend and perhaps something more, this is a consistently engrossing Prime Video adventure from creator Hugo Blick. From the stylized opening graphics to the score to the breathtaking visuals (filming took place in Spain) to the over-the-top dialogue, it’s clear Blick is a huge fan of the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and 1970s. That works for us.
Blunt’s Cornelia is hell-bent on finding the man who killed her son — a mission that draws laughs and scorn from everyone who knows this particular man. Still, she is fiercely determined, despite a battery of obstacles and a steady stream of evil-intentioned characters she encounters along the way. Meanwhile, Spencer’s Eli Whipp, a newly retired Cavalry Scout, just wants to stay out of trouble and claim a few acres of homestead.
Problem is, he can’t quit Cornelia, who keeps tagging along with him and enlisting his help on a variety of missions, which leads to a number of scenarios in which Eli has to rescue Cornelia, or Cornelia has to rescue Eli, or they have to save one another. Along the way, the body count steadily rises. Nary an episode of “The English” ends without one more characters getting blown away or stabbed in the gut or otherwise ended.
Even with helpful graphics telling us we’re in the “NEWLY CREATED TERRITORY OF OKLAHOMA” or “CAINE COUNTY, POWDER RIVER, WYOMING” or “1875, FIFTEEN YEARS EARLIER,” there are times when it’s difficult to keep track of where and when we are, and which bad guy(s) are center stage. It helps a lot to see the likes of Toby Jones, Stephen Rea, Ciarán Hinds and Rafe Spall turn up, and there’s no denying the chemistry between Blunt and Spencer, even when they’re reciting some truly corny lines. And though it’s hardly fresh to include anachronistic needle drops in the proceedings, the series makes great use of songs such as “You Cut Her Hair” by Tom McRae, “Into Dust” by Mazzy Star and Crooked Still’s version of Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” With so much bloodshed and so many haunting images, “The English” isn’t for the faint of heart, but it packs a stylized punch.