The Western drama series on Amazon Prime Video, “The English,” is a tale of love, revenge, and forgiveness played out in the heart of the wild west. It follows the story of an English woman, Lady Cornelia Locke, as she travels to America and then rides across it in search of the killer of her son. On her way, though, she makes new bonds and finds belief in values that somewhat resemble the entire country that was soon to be formed. Enjoyably, the elements of the Western genre do not remain only as a backdrop in “The English,” and propelled by brilliant performances and visuals, it is a great watch that deserves recommendation.
It all begins in 1890 when Lady Cornelia Locke arrives in Kansas from her native home in England with bags full of money, prepared to go about a very personal mission. But the unlawful lands immediately catch her off-guard, as the very group of men welcoming her to the place takes her captive. Before that, though, as Cornelia first sets foot at the camp, she notices a man tied up to a pole at one corner of the place, and upon inquiry about the matter, she learns that the leader of the group had caught and lashed the Native American captive simply because of his skin color and his audacity to walk into a white man’s bar and ask for a drink. The woman is rather appalled by such an account and pays a hefty amount to buy his freedom. But as the captive is taken away, Cornelia herself is taken captive. The leader, a heavy-built man with no subtleties, makes it very clear that he intends to do all evil with Cornelia before finally killing her. However, as the two sit for an awkward and tense dinner, with the leader munching on a meal of prairie oysters, he is suddenly struck by a throwing knife.
From the shadows emerges the same man whom Cornelia had earlier saved, as he had managed to shoot his way out of trouble and had returned to the camp. But this return, he insists, is not to save the lady but to recover his own horse and bags, which had been left behind. He is introduced as Eli Whipp, a member of the Pawnee tribe of Native Americans, who had just gotten off his service as a sergeant for the American army a few days back. Cornelia also now reveals her intention for coming to the new lands—she wishes to avenge the death of her son and knows that this man lives in Caine County, Powder River, Wyoming. Eli, on the other hand, intends to go to Nebraska, the place where he was born, to claim a few acres of land from the government. Despite the land originally belonging to his native tribe, reclaiming it is almost impossible, and Eli only holds on to the fact that the government is bound to give him the land for his service in the army. With their journey being on the same path until one point, the two characters now ride together into the heart of the wild lands in order to fulfill their individual wants.
Fifteen years earlier, in 1875, a group of men had arrived from England and reached an area called Chalk River in the Territory of Wyoming. These men had come to the country in search of business prospects, and they were headed by a young Englishman named Thomas Trafford, who wanted to start a cattle-rearing business. His two companions, Thin Kelly and David Melmont were perhaps not too convinced by this idea, and it was Melmont who specifically told his superior what a loss he might make if he went ahead with his plans. Soon enough, Melmont established himself as the one in control of the group and situations, and he started to overrule Thomas’ decisions in every aspect. During this time and at this place, they had come across a Native American settlement of the Cheyenne tribe. Shortly after, three members of the army came to the place, and upon meeting with the English group, they told them that they were working independently at the time. These three army men, Corporal Jerome McClintock and cousin brothers Billy Myers and Timothy Flynn were in search of a particular Cheyenne man named Running Hawk, who had killed Myers’ brother and mutilated his body for encroaching upon their lands. Knowing that these men were hungry for blood and also considered themselves superior to the natives of the land, Thomas and Timothy did not want to report their earlier sighting, but it was Melmont who completely turned against them. He reported the Cheyenne settlement and then also helped the army men butcher the place, killing all men, women, and children, and this incident became known as the Massacre at Chalk River. Melmont stuck with the three army men, and they were found indulging in prostitution some days later, which was considered a tremendous crime at the time. The four men were captured, and a heavy amount of money was demanded as a fine or bounty.
It was around this time that David Melmont and Jerome McClintock managed to escape confinement and traveled to England. Melmont, who was increasingly turning out to be a vile character with no moral boundaries, now approached Lady Cornelia Locke, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Cornelia also happened to be Thomas Trafford’s lover, and even though they were not engaged yet, both wanted to marry each other in the near future. Melmont now reported everything that had happened in America, replacing his name in every situation with that of Thomas. Although Cornelia has a tough time accepting that her lover could commit such soulless acts, she gives Melmont some of the money that he asked of her, saying that he needed it to pay off Thomas’ bounty. Sometime later, though, Thomas wrote extensively in a letter to his lover about the events in America, and Cornelia was quick to confront Melmont the next time he visited. The man showed no guilt or regret being found out to be a cheat and criminal but instead overpowered Cornelia and sexually violated her before leaving the country with the money and his companion McClintock. The events affected Cornelia tremendously; her lover had written that he would settle down in America in search of the business prospect he had gone to search for and had no intention of returning to England in the foreseeable future, therefore, bringing an end to their relationship. Even harder was the fact that the forceful interaction with Melmont had made Cornelia pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. Despite the tragic past of this child, Cornelia loved her son with all her might and raised him with the utmost care until he died fifteen years later, in 1890.
As fate had turned out, the brothel that Melmont and his army friends had been caught in had a worker named Stella Shriver, and she had a deadly syphilis infection in her body at this time. Such was the extent of her infection, and also the deadly effect of the sexually transmitted disease in reality at that time, that the upper skin of her face had peeled away, and fifteen years later, she was working in a “human freaks and oddities” business because of how she looked. As was obvious, Melmont spread this syphilis to whoever he had sexual interactions with, which sadly included Cornelia as well. When she had her son, her body passed on this disease to the boy as well, and he died at the mere age of fifteen due to this very disease. Therefore, her son’s killer was the very man who was his biological father, and therefore, it was David Melmont that Cornelia was looking for. Both to avenge the death of her son and perhaps to avenge the horrid crime that he had committed against her.
Eli’s character is shown to be one with a habit of walking away from scenes even though he witnesses wrongdoing. The series begins with one such scene, as the man patrols on the very last day of his service as a cavalry scout sergeant in the army. He comes across a few of his fellow army men, who are white, who shoot a Native American dead even though the latter had put up no fight. This murdered man was none other than Running Hawk, the famed fighter who had caused much trouble to the intrusive army fifteen years earlier. But as Eli witnesses this killing and is even called out as a traitor by the man’s wife, he does not intervene in any way. The very reason why Eli had joined the army was to protect himself and his tribe from all their rival tribes, who were also Native Americans, and for this, he had chosen to join the enemy of his enemy, the government army. Letting the killers of Running Hawk walk away, he also has a word with one of them, who tells him to travel to Wyoming and let Billy Myers know that his brother has been finally avenged. Later on, during his travels through the country, Eli is abducted by another Native American bandit leader by the name of Kills on Water, who asks him to talk about what had happened during the Massacre at Chalk River.
While the flashback of what had happened follows, it turns out that Eli Whipp had also been on patrol in the area shortly before and after the incident and had even come across the three army men (and Melmont) who had carried out the treacherous killings while they were leaving the place. However, Eli had done nothing to stop them or put them up to be punished by the law and Kills on Water had come to know of this. The bandit leader, whose whole family and village were killed in the massacre, now wanted Eli to do him a favor to settle the score. Eli had also earlier killed some of Kills on Water’s associates, and the bandit now wanted him to go kill a rival professional for him. While all this is going on, Cornelia has been away trying to reconnect two children with their people, and she finally gets to learn of Eli’s fate from the villagers who had sent him off to Kills on Water’s compound, and she decides to save the man who has helped her so far. She rides over to the compound of the rival bandit, Black-Eyed Mog, and kills her and his two sons, using this to free Eli from Kills on Water’s captivity. The two then continue on their journey toward Wyoming together, and Eli recognizes a young boy Cornelia had saved from Black-Eyed Mog’s compound. This boy turns out to be the son of Running Hawk, and this time Eli does his best to save him and keep him safe.
The convincing part of “The English” is in the fact that the late-19th century America that has been shown did not allow for heroic sacrifices and bravado at all times. Eli could not intervene in any of those acts because of his own racial identity; he was still seen as a Native American and as the enemy, even though he was wearing the army uniform. He had to look out for his own safety; his own village and family, including his young daughter, had been massacred by the army before he joined them. Both he and Cornelia share their emotions of loss and grief over time, and the two strike up a great bond of friendship and love. Even though there is a very natural moment of physical proximity as well, Cornelia stops it in time, knowing that she is carrying syphilis. Gradually, she also gets sicker and has to be helped around by Eli as they are about to reach their destination.
“The English” also presents an interesting subplot in the form of Thomas Trafford and the Myers family, which is ultimately tied into the main plot. Fifteen years after the Massacre at Chalk River, Thomas Trafford had indeed become a cattle breeder in the nearby region of Caine County, near Powder River, in Wyoming. Thin Kelly had lived on with him as his helping hand, but David Melmont had split off ever since the incidents of the past. Melmont had instead bought a gold mine in Colorado with the money he had taken from Cornelia and had then started a trading business, which had flourished with time. He had also created a new town called Hoxem on the very land where the Cheyenne settlement had been massacred. While Thomas was having a tough time managing his business, Melmont was off to newer lands, drilling for water. But the man is genuinely one to enjoy the pains and losses of others, and for this, he has started to get Thomas’ cows and calves killed. Thomas approaches the local sheriff Marshall about this matter, but the latter struggles to deal with it since another incident stirs up the place soon after. Timothy Flynn’s wife had been shot dead, most likely by her own husband, before he shot and killed himself too. Soon after this, Billy Myers also hangs himself to death, leaving their family ranch in the hands of only his widow, Martha Myers. At this time, Martha’s son Jed also notices a dark figure in black clothes and a black mask riding around in the area. After the Massacre at Chalk River, Billy and Timothy had wanted to join Thomas’ business party, but all he had given them was his branding, which he would put on his cattle, as his own way of punishing the men for their abhorrent crime. From there on, the Myers had become sworn enemies of Thomas Trafford and had also become rivals in the cattle-rearing business.
Finally, it is revealed that Martha Myers had also been forced upon by David Melmont, and it was through this man that she had become the wife of Billy. Her son, Jed, was also biologically a child of Melmont. While the treacherous man had syphilis for most of his life, it had gone away for some time in the middle, like the disease actually does in reality. It was around this time that he had violated Martha, and so neither she nor her son had the disease, at least not in any active form. However, Timothy Flynn had noticed the marks of the disease on his wife’s hands and had therefore killed her; he also knew that she had got the bacteria from him in all probability and so had killed himself too. This had further frightened Billy too, and as he saw the marks on his dead cousin’s hands too, he knew that the disease was coming to kill him. This fear, for he knew that he must have contracted the disease in the past from the same source that his cousin had, had made him kill himself. At present, Eli and Cornelia arrive at Martha Myers’ house, and the scene is set for an epic climax. The masked horseman in dark clothes is back again, trying to kill them all, and this figure turns out to be Corporal Jerome McClintock, who probably was still working for Melmont. The reason he always wore a mask on his face was that the skin on his face, too, had fallen off, just like the Black Widow’s, due to deadly syphilis. The characters manage to survive the attack, although Thin Kelly is killed. Eli shoots McClintock down, but a more difficult situation arises when Martha’s son overhears Melmont’s devilish acts and runs out to exact revenge on the man at his drilling site.
Eli and Cornelia head over to Melmont’s camp, and here they confront the man. It is Cornelia who takes the lead role in this confrontation, but the vile man continues to try and avoid death. Cornelia does point her gun toward the man, but she is ultimately unable to pull the trigger. This becomes an integral sign of who Cornelia is as a person, as she cannot kill unless her own life is at stake. Besides, Melmont also happens to be the last living link between her and her beloved son, no matter how twisted that link is, and she perhaps has this in her mind too. In the meanwhile, Martha Myers shoots Melmont dead to save her son, who had been taken captive by the man, and Eli finishes him with a sword stab. Eli does so to take the blame for killing a man off both the women, especially because all this was occurring in front of the sheriff. The authority takes Eli into custody before letting him go as well, only on the condition that Eli goes away from the place and never returns, and the man agrees to it. Before going away, though, he has one last meeting with Cornelia, in which both of them acknowledge that they have found their homes and safe spaces with each other. Unfortunately, the two friends and lovers have to depart since Eli has to hide, and Cornelia is uncertain about her own future due to growing syphilis.
Thirteen years have passed since then, and with the turn of the new century, portrayals of Native Americans in media have become more widespread with the growing popularity of the Western genre. Before going to the town of Hoxem, Cornelia had visited a doctor to get herself and Running Hawk’s son checked. The doctor had indeed told her that she might live on for many years after the bacteria spread in her body, even though she would lose her upper skin by this time. Before leaving, she had handed over the boy, White Moon, to the doctor, along with all the money she had. She had asked the man to raise the boy and keep him safe, and the doctor readily agreed, saying that he would love to get funds for a new venture, a Wild West show business spreading stories of America. Thirteen years later, in 1903, this show comes to Berkshire in England, and Cornelia veils herself to visit the place. Here, she meets with White Moon and shares words of loving concern with him. By this time, she had lost every close one in her life; even towards the end in America, a search party had informed Cornelia, Eli, and the sheriff that Thomas Trafford had drowned in a flash flood and that even his body could not be found. All she now had were the memories spent with Eli, and White Moon was a living, breathing reminder of these memories. In the end, she asks the boy, now a grown teenager, if he would rather do something else, but he replies that he would rather represent his own people, the Native Americans than live out some other identity. The cruel world and the White Man’s civilization did not allow the likes of White Moon to represent themselves in reality, and in the end, he finds joy in playing out the character of Sergeant Eli Whipp in this Wild West show.
“The English” is a 2022 Drama Thriller series created by Hugo Blick.
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