The age of cowboys, fighting for land on a new frontier and the Wild Wild West have intrigued many writers, directors and actors a like. In more recent times, we can assume that most stories of this nature are virtually interpretations of what that time was like—and for Hugo Blick, that meant sweeping landscapes, brutal obstacles and a new viewpoint for the protagonists who drive the story.
‘The English’ is officially described as an epic chase Western, and one that takes the core themes of identity and revenge to tell a uniquely compelling parable on race, power, and love.
At the heart of the story is Cornelia Locke (Emily Blunt), an aristocratic Englishwoman who heads to the United States to find the man who killed her son. Alongside her is Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer) a Pawnee ex-cavalry scout who is on a mission to acquire land that he says is his birthright—and as you can imagine, the Western frontier is tumultuous enough, especially for a woman and a Pawnee.
In the opening episode of the new six-part series, we are introduced to Cornelia and Eli along with a cast of, let’s say, ambitious characters (who grow greedier as the season goes on) but it’s the duo on the forefront that really drives this story home. It’s the characters that pulled in the actors who play them as well.
“The characters are so flushed that it gives you a great roadmap to where you need to go,” explains Chaske Spencer when asked why he took the role. “I love that. I love when a director’s very specific with me and it was just amazing. It was also just the adventure of reading Hugo’s scripts as I was being sent them, then just finding out more and more as to where these characters go.”
Blunt held a similar sentiment to her co-star.
“I was completely gripped and arrested by the writing,” the actress says. “It was so beautiful. I think I knew on page two that I was doing it just from [Cornelia’s] first voiceover monologue that she has in episode one…I just thought, what’s her deal? What’s her story? I want to know. It was so mysterious and so piercing.”
Aside from always wanting to act in this genre, the writing was a key part in the takeaway for the cast and crew. And it’s based on writer-director Blick’s personal experience and curiosity in the Western space.
After being sent to Montana as a young man to be “straightened out,” Blick spent time with an old family friend who happened to be a retired U.S. Army captain and an Olympic gold medalist. With him, Blick learned how to spin a horse, shoot elk and travel into the middle of nowhere to do it all.
“Even in the early ’80s, you could just get a sense of the disappearing dust of the old West,” Blick explains. “And without going into too many details of it, you got the sense of all the positives, but also, a few senses of some of the negatives too.”
Those negatives spanned the Native population.
“We used to cut wood commercially for the government, and you would be supplying for those most in need—unsurprisingly a lot of that wood that got supplied would go to the Native community,” Blick says. “For a young man seeing it, it was tough…I remember we delivered a court of wood for one Crow nation family who were in a single cabin, and they’d utilized generations of clothing actually up the sides of the cabin walls for insulation because there was no other form.”
Blick continued, “That’s the other side of [Westerns] that has not been brought up [while] watching these wonderful advocations of the genre. But I guess, I also wanted to speak to some other aspects of it that I’d also seen for myself.”
And Blick spoke with representatives of both the Pawnee and Cheyenne nations to make sure it was shown accurately.
‘The English’ takes all aspects of a Western and pays homage to the times—blood, guns and all. The landscape as you could imagine in 1890 America is gorgeous—although you’re actually viewing rural Spain in this series—and the less-than-welcoming characters are also introduced from start to finish. Just wait for Ciarán Hinds entrance, though it doesn’t take long.
But at the center of the chaos is both Cornelia and Eli’s ambition, and how they help each other achieve their goals, which become intertwined as the story plays out. To prepare for his role as a vet, Spencer turned to those who knew what life was like after the war to play the calm-natured but deadly accurate Eli Whipp.
“Eli is a survivalist. He’s been through a lot of trauma and I think he recognizes that in Cornelia. I wanted to really try to find those beats with him, and I did a lot of research on veterans because I felt like that’s where he was at that time,” Spencer says.
“The relationship was so fun for us to do.[Cornelia] is so expressive, she’s sort of an over-sharer and [Eli’s] a man of few words and it’s what pulls her in,” Blunt agrees. “What I loved about the relationship was her buoyancy and her hopefulness were met with his sort of cynicism, and they both come along and wake each other up in many ways.”
As ‘The English’ goes on, you begin to unravel more and more of a mystery while wrapped up in a tale of revenge, birthrights, identity, and even love. For Blick, writing and directing every episode of his shows is something that is showcased through the series. And as Chaske Spencer cites, it’s a love letter to the Western genre and notes of inspiration are seen throughout it’s entirety.
But as audiences will soon find out, it’s also just a gripping tale told like never before—with back stories interwoven, a mystery brewing, a cast of unruly characters, but more so, a new point of view being shown in the Wild, Wild West.
All six episodes of The English are available on Prime Video.