Few television shows in recent years have tackled the western successfully: think of the series Hell on Wheels which unfortunately arrived in Italy with some delay and not too much fanfare, or to the remarkable miniseries Godless made by Netflix. Amazon Prime Video in collaboration with the BBC tries to go this route thanks to The Englisha project in six episodes which confirms and at the same time overturns the coordinates of the genre.
If in fact on a purely aesthetic level we find many of the archetypes of the genre themselves – above all for how he understood it and in his own way “created” Sergio Leone – in the content instead The English offers a different and original angle. The protagonists of the story are in fact an English woman who came to America to avenge the death of her son and the Native American met by chance at the beginning of his journey on foreign soil. Cornelia LockeEmily Blunt) and Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer) make their first forced coexistence and subsequently increasingly desired the strength to continue fighting in a hostile and violent land, where only the law of the strongest seems to really count.
The English, the plot of the Amazon Prime Video series
For at least three episodes The English is an erratic miniseries, fun to follow, generous even when it appears vaguely uncoordinated in following different narrative paths, or influences deriving from other genres: very often, in fact, the show is entirely written and directed by Hugo Blick (The Honorable Woman with Maggie Gyllenhaal) flirts courageously with the genre, especially when it wants to stage in the form of a metaphor how plain America was a wild and violent place, capable of bringing human beings to the limits of their animal nature, and very often even exceeding them . Together with their cast it seems in a certain way to enjoy playing with the western, to insert tones that do not belong to them in the historical DNA. And all this within a package that however exploits large spaces in the manner of the classics, or the music as disruptive as it was Sergio Leone.
In short, The English it has its own particular energy, released by multiple influences held together in the first part by a sparkling staging. Then the fourth episode changes the cards on the table, as it compacts the plot and directs it towards a very specific goal, and at the same time gives an emotional depth – read also dramatic – to the entire operation. This is because after a journey in stages that has proposed various expendable antagonists with the flow of the plot, the real “villain” of The English it manifests itself in a powerful and terrifying way. In the episode of which he is the absolute protagonist, a Rafe Spall in an absolutely new version he offers a test that leaves his mark, giving us a version of his character capable of freezing the blood in his veins in a couple of moments. It must be written that, when he is on stage, the still very effective Emily Blunt And Chaske Spencer along with all the other actors in the cast frankly disappear. Truly applause.
A melodramatic soul
As anticipated, once the tram is channeled in the main direction The English he raises the tone by making his melodramatic soul explicit, embellishing the main figures – especially Cornelia – with a painful and shocking backstory. Blunt transforms into a remarkable tragic heroine, marked by a fate for which she is not responsible but which she fearlessly embraces. It is she who becomes despite her emblem of how much America was built (also) on abuse, on the pain of the weakest, on the idea that the individual is more important than the community and its shared well-being. From this point of view, the Amazon / BBC miniseries is much more contemporary than the setting reveals. Unfortunately…
There’s no denying, it’s a lot of fun and with a strange sense of the tragic to follow The English: maybe we need to give it time to develop, to find its own way, but it’s absolutely worth it. And in the meantime, along this journey made up of blood, bullets, rattlesnakes and “monsters” wearing army uniforms, one can enjoy episode after episode the art of great character actors such as Ciaran Hinds, Toby Stephens and especially the never forgotten Stephen Rea, one of the most refined and melancholic actors that British cinema has produced in the last forty years. He and all the others must be united in a heartfelt applause, capable of entertaining and after a second hitting the heart. Just like The English.