“The English” is a story about the brutal violence on which a country was founded. In it you will see a lot of severed heads, a lot of disfigured skin and senseless murders preceded by sadistic torture.
The territory of the events is the newly founded United States, and the year is 1890 – the fresh phase of the existence of the USA, when settlers, Indians and wild animals do not differ from each other in their behavior.
For one of the characters in the new series from Amazon Studios and the BBC, this picture bottles the spirit of “real America” - with cowboys, lawlessness, the wasteland and the Indian hanging on the end of the rope.
This is not an America of unlimited opportunity and dreams come true, this is an America where if you are not good enough with a gun, you die.
On the basis of the corpses of the past, the racial oppression of the indigenous population and the cinematography of the classic western, the screenwriter and director Hugo Blick sets the series “The Englishwoman”. Six episodes that mix Wild West scenes with platonic romance to produce one of the most powerful, emotionally nuanced and artistically sustained productions of 2022.
There is no weak link in the series – visually, conceptually, textually and acting-wise, “The Englishwoman” is a model for quality storytelling. And if you don’t like something in it, as they say – “the problem is in your TV”. Or more politely, it is due to the discrepancies with your tastes and preferences.
The story in the series starts from back to front. First we are introduced to the landscape, then to the voice of Lady Cornelia Locke (Emily Blunt), who describes the most significant period of her life – the month in which she crossed the ocean to avenge the murder of her son.
The aftermath of this vendetta appears seconds into the first episode: a compass, a purple suit, a rifle, a broken locket, and a photograph of a standing Indian posing next to a woman with a smeared face.
“If it wasn’t for you, they would have killed me in the first place. That’s how we met. That’s why our paths crossed,” Lady Cornelia says under her thick black veil to the male figure in the distance.
The moment is extremely intimate. The main character lifts the curtains of her life and little by little lets us in on her biggest secret.
But just as she gets down to the nitty-gritty, her confession is interrupted, and the tape is rewound 13 years before the audience’s first meeting with the Englishwoman Cornelia Locke.
The action abruptly veers from foggy England to settle on the sunny horizons of the Midwest. The contrast between the colors of the cinematography and the nature of the events here is impressive.
While in the first scene of Lady Cornelia the camera filter is deathly bleak but the story told is rapturously amorous, in the next moment the opposite happens. Viewers are immersed in bright yellows, joyous by definition, but what they show is the monstrous killing of Running Hawk, a Cheyenne chief.
Two American soldiers aim for his head and take it in half, but it is not enough for them. They are there, driven by an extreme psychopathic revenge, which dictates that if only they put out the eyes of the Indian’s wife, they will be at peace with their fellow tribesmen killed.
However, their ill-fated endeavor is interrupted by Sergeant Eli Whip (Chaskey Spencer), a Pawnee Indian, but also a high-ranking soldier who allows him to stop the obscurantism of the Cheyenne.
Eli is headed to his home state of Nebraska to ask the authorities to return stolen land to him. He believes that the years of military service will weigh against his background and the pale faces will give him a few acres of the place where he grew up.
However, his desire is delayed because of Lady Cornelia, who has just arrived in America and is still adjusting to the idea that her aristocratic background is worthless in the wild.
After they do each other a favor worth two lives, Eli agrees to accompany Cornelia to the state where the man he wants to kill is.
Mixing the romantic attraction between the main characters with the harsh conditions of the still young America brings the style of “The Englishwoman” closer to “The Last of the Mohicans”.
With the difference that, while in Michael Mann’s film the events are coherent and escalate with each subsequent scene, in “The Englishwoman” the script goes in different directions.
The development of the action is choppy. Until the second or third episode of the series, you probably won’t notice the point of contact between the individual storylines. You will probably wonder what the characters have in common with each other and why the story is burdened with details, but with time the mystery is revealed.
Every small detail, every introduced character obeys a general homogenous concept that reveals its true face only at the end. And the meaning is so rich and heavy that it is possible after the end of the series to play the episodes from the beginning to catch the small clues about the course of the script.
Hugo Blick’s achievements as series creator carry over on a visual level as well.
The footage of “The Englishwoman” is a benchmark for the modern Western, offering wide shots of riders riding against the horizon and close-ups of gun muzzles in the most colorful and high definition possible.
The score, similar to the tones of Ennio Morricone, also gives the impression that at any moment a young Clint Eastwood in a cowboy hat will appear on the screen, but instead Emily Blunt and Chaskey Spencer appear.
With their transformation, the two actors prove that no statuette can cover a good game. They are the perfect Cornelia and Eli, who do not behave melodramatically, no matter how painful the circumstances, but present the purely human side of their suffering.
When Blunt starts narrating, it’s easy to get lost in the show.
“The Englishwoman” is Hugo Blink’s demonstration that even the stale Western genre has life in the 21st century, as long as it gives a fresh look, a meaningful structure and impressive acting to an audience that has grown tired of looking for the deep in politically correct films.
The series “The Englishwoman” is available on the HBO Max streaming platform from November 11.