Skip to main content

The English review: an occasionally transcendent Western

Emily Blunt stands near a burning house in The English.
The English
“The English is a narratively messy but consistently engaging Western that is anchored by Emily Blunt and Chaske Spencer's spellbinding performances.”
  • Emily Blunt and Chaske Spencer's lead performances
  • Stunning Western imagery
  • A memorable villain
  • Convoluted plotting
  • A messy finale
  • Uneven pacing

Cornelia Locke believes in magic. For that reason, the British aristocrat, as played by Emily Blunt, feels uniquely modern in The English. The new limited series from Hugo Blick, which premieres in the U.S. today on Amazon Prime, opens with a flashforward monologue from Blunt about the power of fate. and its first episode concludes with Cornelia boasting about her star sign (she’s a Scorpio because, of course, she is) and sharing her belief in the magic of the universe. The English’s premiere also makes it clear that Cornelia is a woman on a dangerous mission, a fact that adds a surprising edge to her more eccentric astrological beliefs.

The English is at its best when it makes Cornelia’s trust in magic feel justified. Like many great Westerns, there’s a deep spirituality running throughout The English that adds layers of predetermined weight and tragedy to its story. Across its six episodes, the series frequently makes its own life harder than it needs to be by presenting a fairly straightforward plot in an unnecessarily convoluted way. However, whenever it feels like The English has grown too unwieldy for its creative team, its two stars return to keep it from floating away.

Chaske Spencer carries a rifle on his shoulder in The English.
Diego Lopez Calvin/Drama Republic/BBC/Amazon Studios

The English tells, in many ways, a simple revenge story. Its first episode introduces Blunt’s Cornelia Locke and then reveals that she, like so many Western heroes before her, has come to the American West of the 1890s looking to right a wrong as violently as she can. We’re told that she’s looking to kill the man responsible for the death of her son, though Cornelia’s actual target is a mystery that The English holds on to for as long as possible. In order to get her revenge, Cornelia requires the help of a Pawnee scout named Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer).

When Cornelia and Eli first cross paths, the latter is just a few months into his retirement from the U.S. military, which he dutifully served for many years. The pair initially seem like they could not be any more different from each other, but the further into The English’s story we get, the more we realize just how much they actually have in common. Despite their racial, social, and cultural differences, a bond quickly forms between the two that emerges as both the thematic backbone and emotional foundation of The English’s admittedly messy story.

Fortunately, both Spencer and Blunt are performers who are more than capable of carrying a series like The English. Blunt, for her part, is given the chance to play one of her best roles in years here. The Quiet Place star brings authenticity to every side of Cornelia, whether it be her hard-edged ruthlessness, wholehearted belief in the supernatural, devastating sadness, or charming wit. It’s hard, in fact, to think of a project that has given Blunt more to do than The English, but the series is better off because it does.

Chaske Spencer holds Emily Blunt in The English.
Diego Lopez Calvin/Drama Republic/BBC/Amazon Studios

Opposite her, Spencer brings a commanding presence to The English. The actor is spellbinding as Eli Whipp, a Pawnee man whose time in the military has instilled both a deep confidence and a profound sense of guilt within him. Spencer’s performance is one built on a series of micro-expressions and sideways glances that, when combined together, make Eli’s complicated past and conflicting inner emotions clear even beneath his ceaselessly calm, collected persona.

Outside of Spencer and Blunt, Rafe Spall gives an oddly entrancing performance as a character whose role in The English is probably best left unspoiled. Other recognizable actors like Toby Jones and Ciaran Hinds turn in reliably memorable performances in otherwise minor, thankless roles. Meanwhile, as its sole director, Hugo Blick fills The English with enough striking images and fittingly sun-soaked compositions to cement the series as one of the more artistically composed Westerns of recent memory.

Blick’s writing does not, however, match the consistency of his directing. The English’s final two episodes, in particular, unfold in ways that often feel confusing, if not downright incoherent. After introducing one of the more awful TV villains of the year, Blick’s final script for The English fails to deliver the kind of resoundingly cathartic conclusion that the series deserves. That particular failure is partly due to Blick’s overall misuse of a superfluous character played by A Hidden Life star Valerie Pachner.

The English - Official Trailer | Prime Video

Despite these flaws, The English is a largely successful, occasionally excellent Western. Even in its worst moments, most of which arrive in its finale, the series still feels like a unique addition to a genre that Hollywood has essentially chosen to ignore in recent years. The show is also, even more importantly, a reminder of what kind of shots actors like Blunt and Spencer can take when they’re given the tools and space that they deserve. The English, to its credit, wisely chooses more often than not to stay out of its stars’ way, which is ultimately why it works as well as it does.

The English is now streaming on Prime Video. Digital Trends was given early access to all six of its episodes.

Editors' Recommendations

Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
3 TV comedies on Prime Video you need to watch in September
Michael Sheen sitting with a cup of tea and David Tennant sitting on the back of the chair behind him in a scene from Good Omens.

There’s no shortage of TV comedies streaming and on linear TV. But with the writer’s strike still looming, you might be looking to check out something from a streaming service library you haven’t watched yet. It’s the perfect time to watch that series you never got around to but always meant to watch, or the one so many people have told you is worth checking out.

Amazon Prime Video is a good place to start. Among the best shows on Amazon Prime are many TV comedies that you can watch with a base Amazon Prime subscription, new and old. Here, we highlight three in particular that are good to watch in September.
Spin City (1996-2001)

Read more
Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles live stream: Watch Thursday Night Football for free
Jalen Hurts of the Eagles jogs and stares.

Week 2 of the NFL season kicks off with Thursday Night Football (TNF) when the Minnesota Vikings (0-1) travel to Pennsylvania to play the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles (1-0). The game will be played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. FanDuel has the Eagles as 6.5-point favorites.

Minnesota stumbled out of the gate against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kicker Chase McLaughlin made the go-ahead 57-yard field goal to put the Bucs ahead 20-17 with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Vikings' offense failed to get a first down for the rest of the game as Tampa held on for the victory. In Foxboro, Massachusetts, the Eagles' offensive exploded for 16 unanswered points in the first quarter before going ice cold the rest of the half. Three second half field goals by Jake Elliot ended up being the difference as the Eagles held on for a 25-20 victory.
Watch the Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles live stream on Prime Video and Twitch

Read more
3 dramas on Prime Video you need to watch in September
Matt Damon and Viola Davis sitting across from one another at a table outside in a scene from AIR on Prime Video.

There’s something soothing about dramas. They help you escape into a fictional world of intrigue, sometimes intense action, and unbelievable scenarios. Dramas are a catch-all genre that skews to all types of secondary genres, from horror to comedy to thrillers, depending on the movie or TV show.

When you’re looking for a new drama to watch, whether it’s a movie or a TV show, consider browsing the best movies on Amazon Prime Video. Among them are fabulous dramas, and we have highlighted two great drama films to watch on Prime Video, as well as one can’t-miss drama TV show this month.
Air (2023)
AIR | Official Trailer

Read more