WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH “THE ENGLISH”

Or The Art of Grit and Resilience That’s In Danger of being Lost

Recently, in the office where I worked, there arose a dispute that launched one colleague into the stratosphere of an epic temper tantrum. It was over a soft toy meant for six-year-olds. When I heard about the incident, one in which no lives were lost, no limbs were mangled, no reputations entirely maligned, it dawned on me that this was a first world problem.

When you live in a world where there is air conditioning, and are well fed, have a job that pays a decent salary, it is fair to say that your problems pale as compared to someone who is living in the 1800s, on the American frontier, where you starve if you are unable to hunt, and morals are decided by whomsoever draws his gun the fastest.

Someone like Lady Cornelia Locke, played by Emily Blunt, in a mini-series currently showing on Amazon Prime with BBC, titled -

THE ENGLISH

Emily Blunt’s performances in genre films are always riveting, her most notable being A Quiet Place. She’s very good at playing beautiful women who can be vulnerable but when confronted with malignant forces intent on wearing her down, retaliates with a steel in her character. A steel that she demonstrates admirably with the glint in her eyes.

In The English, she plays a mother who travels from genteel England to the American frontier, in search of the man she believes is responsible for the death of her son. She would have perished in the first episode if she had not been rescued by a Pawnee native, Eli Whipp, who was a former scout for the American calvary and also, a good man filled with rage and grief for being forced into terrible compromises. The English is a revenge story and hence, the plot is simple.

Find the killer of my son.

The plot has to be simple, so the viewer will not get lost as he follows the tumultuous paths taken by the character relationship between Cornelia and Eli Whipp.

What I loved about this series was the striking contrast in the various scenarios. For example -

The intimacy of a warm human relationship in contrast with the wild, hostile terrain ruled by thieves and hard brutal killers.

Emily Blunt in a long, beautiful red gown, set against the backdrop of a crumbling house, which is smack in the middle of scrub land with nothing but miles of desert in sight.

The way the characters speak, in mannered dialogue with its elegant phrasing, a far cry from how language is truncated in the era of WhatsApp, that contrasts with the implicit violence in the scenes.

An example.

Lady Cornelia is having dinner with Mr. Watts, who intends to kill her after a meal of cow’s testicles, but before he takes her life, he intends to rape her. Here’s the exchange.

Mr. Watts: In truth, I’ve mostly learnt to absorb my belittlement, confine my thoughts merely to my contract, a contract which, despite its sulphurous stink, I find myself quite willing to uphold. That is, bar the odd hidden cost. I get them from time to time. Just give me a chance to spit in the soup. Pathetic really, but there you go. What else is there left to the humbled servant?

Cornelia (Emily Blunt) thinks about his words. It dawns on her.

Cornelia: You want to rape me?

Mr. Watts: I’m realistic when it comes to issues of consent.

Cornelia: Then fuck a horse.

End scene.

Emily Blunt’s character does not break down. Never once did she whimper in fear. We sense that should the act of raping were to happen; she would put up a hell of a fight. She would claw, grab, gouge, stab, and scratch. That was what I found so admirable about her character, this trait of awesome resilience in the face of overwhelming odds.

A trait that is somewhat deficient in this generation of youth.

One in which I have heard described as -

THE STRAWBERRY GENERATION

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

In my previous life as a screenwriting lecturer, during the early years of my teaching career, I found that film students back in the early 2000, were made of sterner stuff. They were ambitious. Full of chutzpah. Regardless of how limited their budgets were, they were determined to do a great short film. Whatever they lacked in technical skills, they were determined to learn by themselves. They were in the dark and clueless about so many aspects of screenwriting and film production but that did not dim their enthusiasm at all. And what was admirable was how they took rejection. Even when their first cut was awful, and the lecturers demanded a complete reshoot, they did not cry or crumble or lash out with defensive accusations and blame. They accepted that they could have done better and then they set out to reshoot the film, sometimes with a completely rewritten script, with even more enthusiasm. And this was during a time when the students did not have the latest camera or an editing suite with all the bells and whistles. They made do with what they had, and if their short film was unpolished in colour and production values, they made up for it with emotional storytelling and realistic portrayals of character.

As the years went by, with every batch, I realize that the character of students began to change. It was a gradual shift. Students got more access to powerful cameras, and lighting equipment. Modern editing suits with colour grading accessories were built for these students. No longer did they have to hustle as much for resources.

This had consequences for their overall character.

Students got more defensive when dealing with criticism.

Students tend to crumble when faced with stress during production or encounter any obstacles that required them to think on their feet.

Students began to balk at the prospect of yet another rewrite and were generally content to run with the first drafts of a script.

Not every student though. There were still some students who possessed the trait of resilience, but they were getting scarcer every year. It is a sad depletion of a human resource. I fear they might one day turn into an endangered species.

Perhaps the students in the strawberry generation could do with a short stint in the American frontier. Put a little of The English in them. Let them acquire grit in their character by earning the right to access technology. I do think that though technological advances have made our lives easier, there is some price we have paid. We have forgotten to be tolerant. We have grown to be unreasonably impatient. What price is there to be paid if a message takes a while to be read on WhatsApp. Why lose your temper when there is no life lost, no limb mangled, no reputation destroyed. At least you don’t have to ride horseback through miles and miles of land just to deliver a message on a strip of paper. And will it absolutely kill you when your website takes an extra second to load?

Watching The English has made me appreciate the trait of resilience, and truth be told…

Sometimes a bit of hassle is good for the soul.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Andrew Ngin

Man In The Arena . Once a lecturer. Written television, films, short stories. Older. Singaporean. Still writing. Always with love