thu 20/06/2024

The English, BBC Two review - Emily Blunt's date with destiny on the prairies | reviews, news & interviews

The English, BBC Two review - Emily Blunt's date with destiny on the prairies

The English, BBC Two review - Emily Blunt's date with destiny on the prairies

Hugo Blick takes on the untamed West

Prairie rose: Emily Blunt as Lady Cornelia Locke

Writer and director Hugo Blick isn’t afraid of getting stuck into some knotty and morally complicated issues, whether it’s Middle Eastern politics (The Honourable Woman) or the Rwandan genocide (Black Earth Rising), but perhaps he wouldn’t be your automatic go-to guy for Westerns. Nevertheless, here he is, giving it some high-plains-drifter in a baleful tale of revenge, violence and twists of fate.

It’s 1890, and we first meet Lady Cornelia Locke (Emily Blunt) in the prairie flatlands of Kansas. The landscape is gaunt and bleak, the view only interrupted by a rickety wooden hotel which looks as if it fell out of the sky at random.

How the delicate English beauty in her hat, veil and chic pink dress is here at all is at first a mystery. Anyway, she’s horrified to see a bound man hanging from a rope, and at once offers the hateful custodian of this God-forsaken place 30 dollars for his freedom. This individual is named Richard M Watts (and is played with leering boorishness by Ciaran Hinds, pictured left), and he then knocks out Lady Cornelia with a thunderous right hook. Civilisation has evidently not yet bestowed its many blessings on Kansas.

But it’s all part of a grand celestial plan, since the brutalised man is the Pawnee ex-US Cavalry scout Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer, pictured below), who has left the cavalry and is heading for a new life in Nebraska. The story will evidently pivot around the entwined destinies of the elegant English lady and the grimly philosophical and battle-hardened former horse soldier. Indeed, Lady Cornelia has delivered a heartfelt opening monologue to the first episode in which she foretells some of the future, about how she came to America to track down the man who murdered her child, and how Whipp saved her life. “It was in the stars, and we believed in the stars, you and I,” breathes her ladyship, against a pattering of poignant piano music.

Their backgrounds could scarcely be more different, but in their own way both of them are outsiders in this weird and desolate land. Whipp has made a himself a career in the military, evidently going through hell and high water to earn his stripes, but as one of his fellow-troopers warns as he heads out to build a new life in Nebraska, “you’ve been one of us, but out there you’re one of them.” However, Lady Cornelia, a soldier’s daughter, will prove herself much more formidable than she at first appears.

It’s well enough staged, shot and acted to make you reasonably interested to find out what happens next, and the cinematography makes the most of infinite landscapes and epic sunsets (it was shot in Spain), but this isn’t the most original take on the Western genre that we’ve seen. There are faint echoes of Sergio Leone’s magisterial Once Upon a Time in the West – which, let’s face it, nobody is ever going to match – in the images of the brutalised Whipp and the arrival of the glamorous woman carrying the heavy burden of her past. The background music, credited to Federico Jusid, is by no means innocent of the influence of Ennio Morricone. The supporting cast of misfits and subhuman soldiers and bandits for whom rape, murder and robbery are second nature could have been harvested from a thousand Western movies. But it’s all on iPlayer, so you can check it out.


Goodness me, make-up have done a remarkable job with Ciaran Madden.

A good point well made. Now corrected.

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