We just binge-watched The English, Amazon Prime Video’s compelling revisionist six-part Western series, as a tense chase reveals the most brutal aspects of the Old West – ones that are rarely acknowledged – like the genocidal consequences of Manifest Destiny.
The phrase Manifest Destiny was coined in 1845 to codify the belief that the United States was destined – by God – to expand its domination, spreading democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent, supposedly justifying the forced removal of Native Americans from their homeland.
Emily Blunt plays Lady Cornelia Locke, an aristocratic Englishwoman, who guilelessly arrives on the post-Civil War frontier in 1890, fiercely determined to avenge the death of her teenage son. Toting a suitcase filled with fashionable gowns and a wad of cash, she’s seemingly fearless, yet evasive about secrets about her past that only gradually get revealed.
Cornelia’s arrival is not unexpected. In the first episode, she must cope with smarmy, supercilious Richard M. Watts (Ciaran Hinds), who serves her only disgusting prairie oysters.
Cornelia soon partners with a swaggering, if soulful member of the Pawnee Nation, Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer), a former U.S. Army cavalry scout who is also on a vengeance mission to reclaim land that was his Indigenous birthright.
For different reasons, both are headed toward the fictional town of Hoxem, Wyoming. Although they come from diverse backgrounds, Cornelia and Eli soon realize how much they need one another to survive the physical and psychological challenges that lie ahead.
In a pensive moment, Cornelia tells him, “You and I – how we met – it was in the stars.”
There are villains aplenty. Particularly memorable are Nichola McAuliffe as ghoulish Black Eyed Mog, whose own backstory is horrifying, the ruthless bandit Kills-On-Water (William Belleau) and Cornelia’s insidious archenemy David Malmont (Rafe Spall), a swindling scoundrel.
British writer/director Hugo Blick (The Honourable Woman, Black Earth Rising) tells a shocking tale, adroitly collaborating with cinematographer Arnau Valls Colomer on stark, striking, sweeping visuals that evokes memories of Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog.
Unfortunately, Blick’s pacing is uneven and the tone inconsistent, plus the jarring historical jumbling of various episodes dilutes narrative cohesion. Nevertheless, it’s ultimately enthralling.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The English is an epic, elegiac 8, streaming on Amazon Prime Video.