Roush Review: ‘The English’ Not at Home on This Bizarre Western Range

The English - Emily Blunt
Diego Lopez Calvin/Drama Republic/BBC/Amazon Studios

The English

Matt's Rating: rating: 3.0 stars

A laconic sheriff with the punny name of Marshall (nicely played by Irish actor Stephen Rea) is as close as you’ll get to a punchline in The English, Prime Video’s exceedingly grim and often very twisted Western fable. This six-part series (available, but not recommended, for an all-at-once binge) suggests the fruited plains might have been better off if Europeans — all seen as “the English” to natives — had just stayed far away.

Manifest destiny collides with more sordid personal destinies in the post-Civil War wild West. There’s surely not much civilization to crow about in the brand-new state of Wyoming, where Lady Cornelia Locke (A Quiet Place’s Emily Blunt), a fallen Englishwoman with a satchel full of cash, is heading in the company of stoic Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer), a sorrowful Pawnee with a gruff all-American drawl who left his tribe to serve as a cavalry scout and now isn’t welcome in either world.

The English - Chaske Spencer

Diego Lopez Calvin/Drama Republic/BBC/Amazon Studios

Their first encounter, at a remote Kansas way station, is the opposite of a meet-cute, with scene-stealers Cierán Hinds and Toby Jones among the early antagonists welcoming Cornelia to “a new America,” one brimming with scoundrels and murderers. Though Eli growls at her, “Not your fight, don’t pick it,” their outsider status quickly bonds them on a perilous journey whose mission isn’t immediately clear. Nor is much else in writer-director Hugo Blick’s cryptic, mannered dialogue and largely opaque characters.

“I sometimes wonder if there’s horror in us all,” muses Cornelia, whose revenge quest is fueled by grief over her dead son (the circumstances of which are a mystery till near the end). Her dire sentiment is borne out by the savagery they regularly confront and that Eli seems to have internalized. “I’ve seen hell and I’ve made hell,” he barks, putting on a show of ambivalence that would do Casablanca’s Rick proud, though, like that hero, he’s drawn back into the fray time and again.

As they get closer to their destination, the not-yet-boom town of Hoxem, more is revealed about its inhabitants, including a disillusioned British rancher (Tom Hughes) and a fiendish shopkeeper (Rafe Spall, terrifying) whose malevolent actions, past and present, threaten to poison their uncertain futures.

Watch for the colorful performances, which somehow shine through the fatalism of a drama where the heroine ends a tender scene with her warrior companion by explaining: “You think I’m traveling with hope? Just without fear. You know why? ’Cause I’m dead already.”

The English, Series Premiere, Friday, November 11, Prime Video