Emily Blunt and The English Team Talk Revenge, Representation and ‘Epic Love Story’ at Heart of Amazon Western
November 11 2022
Yellowstone isn’t the only Western galloping onto TV screens this weekend.
Preceding the Paramount Network drama’s Season 5 premiere is the debut of the new Prime Video thriller The English, which casts executive producer Emily Blunt as Lady Cornelia Locke, an English aristocrat who arrives in 1890 middle America hellbent on avenging the death of her son. There, she crosses paths with Chaske Spencer’s Eli Whipp, a Pawnee ex-calvary scout who is on a mission to claim the land that is owed to him for his service to the United States Army. Together, this unlikely duo traverse a violent landscape, unaware that their destinies are intertwined.
Created by Hugo Blick (The Honourable Woman, Black Earth Rising), the six-part drama is a throwback to classic chase Westerns, only with a Native American installed as the stoic male lead. It’s a role that, at the height of the genre’s popularity, was typically reserved for the likes of Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman.
Blunt, Spencer and Blick discuss the series’ exploration of race, identity and love.
For much of her journey, the audience is kept in the dark about what happened to Cornelia’s son. What we do know is that he died a slow, painful death, and Cornelia is out to confront the man responsible for it.
“There is a tenacity, and a determination, and a fever in her to enact revenge, and it’s the thing that just keeps propelling her forward,” Blunt tells TVLine, as seen in the video Q&A above. “She is a very propulsive character. Even though she is also quite innocent and naive and hopeful, she has this thing in her and she needs to enact it. And in order to enact it, she needs the help of this incredible Pawnee warrior.”
Blick notes that Cornelia’s past is also something of a secret early on. It, too, plays into her desire for retributive justice.
“Because of the story that reveals itself and its destination, Cornelia has spent the last period of her life incarcerated — not in jail, but unable to travel, unable to be — for a reason that will be revealed,” he teases. “So the moment that her child has departed and she seeks revenge, she is released to life, almost as if she is recalled to life.”
ELI’S DUAL ROLE
Eli wears two very different hats. At once, he is both a respected sergeant within his calvary and a member of the Pawnee nation — and the latter makes him an outsider to the rest of the world.
“I think it’s very tough for him,” Spencer posits, recalling his first scene as Eli where a fellow Native American deems him a traitor for working alongside military forces. “Something I could work with was the duality of that: the difference between living in two different worlds.”
Blick tells TVLine that is was a “deliberate choice” to have Eli torn between two identities. “There’s a very famous picture by T.C. Cannon, who was a Native artist,” he recalls, summoning the 1970 painting Soldiers. “He has a calvary man on one side of this picture, and the Native American man on the other. And in a way, they are both divided and united. That’s what Eli’s character is. He is two things, and that is what I wanted to explore — whether there was a unifying force within him that would be able to make him settle his own identity.”
A self-professed “huge fan of the genre,” Blick looked to the mid-20th Century Western for inspiration. But he’s also quick to point out that Native representation in those films was “sketchy” at best, “and I wanted to be sure that we addressed that.” Therefore it was important that Spencer be credited above the title, “in a role that would otherwise be reserved for an Eastwood or Newman,” and that it was “played by a Native American, in a performance by a Native American. What we’re doing is personifying that kind of heroic persona that we’ve seen [before].”
‘AN EPIC LOVE STORY’
Revenge and romance were of equal importance to the story Blick set out to tell. “The mechanism for the cowboy film is revenge. But at the same time, this is almost this Doctor Zhivago quality that I was also interested in engaging, which is this love story,” he says.
Unlike Cornelia, who has the emotional means to carry out her mission but lacks the physical tools, Eli is “a guy who has had all the tools to survive in this physical, tumultuous world, but… has lost the impetus to do so,” Blick points out. “So by their meeting and their journeying together, each supply the absence in the other.” When their paths cross, “Eli sees a light in Cornelia, and she sees something in him that he didn’t see,” Spencer says. “That makes Eli more curious to follow and help her on her journey.”
As Blunt tells it, “It was always going to be a story where [Cornelia and Eli] stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, and always supposed to be this epic love story, so it was vital that we found a partner for me who could just light everything up in the way that Chaske did… and the two-handed nature of it is what’s so beautiful. They come from polar opposite backgrounds, yet it’s sort of like it was written in the stars. They are like kindred spirits.”