Is The English based on a true story, and how many episodes are there? Everything you need to know about the BBC Emily Blunt Western series

A twist on the classic Western like you've never seen before

Emily Blunt as Cornelia Locke in The English
(Image credit: Diego López Calvín/Drama Republic/BBC/Future)

Emily Blunt delivers in a fresh take on the aged Western genre, but how much of it is a true story?

The English is written and directed by Hugo Blick, and described as a revisionist western - a refreshing take on an dated genre. Audiences are transported to 1890 where they first meet Pawnee native Eli Whipp, a former US army cavalry scout seen by his people as a traitor. He is on a mission to Nebraska to claim what he is owed for his army service, when his path crosses with Emily Blunt’s Lady Cornelia Locke. On a mission of her own, Locke is out for revenge on the man she holds responsible for her son’s death. With their lives entwined as they search for personal peace, the series follows the diverse and sometimes diabolical characters they meet along the way, while packing a punch with some graphic violence. Read on to find out how much of the story is true, and other need-to-know information about the series.

Elsewhere on the BBC, SAS: Rogue Heroes and the true story behind it has made a huge splash. Fan favourite actor Jack O'Connell brought real-life SAS hero Paddy Mayne to life, but exactly who was he and how did he die? SAS: Rogue Heroes filmed across some sunny and dusty locations, and we reveal exactly where, and some behind-the-scenes filming footage. 

Is The English based on a true story?

The English isn’t based on a true story but takes inspiration from history, and the experiences of writer and director Hugo Blick when he was sent to live with a family friend in Montana at the age of 18. 

As a wayward young adult, Blick’s family sent him to live with a friend in Montana, to stabilise him. The friend was a retired USAF captain, Olympic Gold Medalist and avidly loved the outdoors. Blick told the BBC “He taught me how to hunt, shoot, spin a horse - a sort of Will Geer to my Jeremiah Johnson! We also cut wood commercially. Our contracts came from the government to supply those most in need.”

He added “Sometimes this involved Native people’s communities. We made a hunting buddy I called Chief. He wasn’t a chief. He called me English. We were easy with this casual racism, but pretty soon I got to see it was a one way street - with all the heavy traffic heading his way. Back then the reservation seemed hard and isolated, particularly in winter. I had never seen such difficulties. Then one day he took off, leaving a couple of bags with us for when he came back. He didn’t. Nothing to come back for. I never knew his real name, nor he mine. I regretted that. This was a kernel for The English.”

Blick also spoke about the research process that went into producing the script for the series, saying it was simply, “A lot.” He added “Once completed, I sent the scripts to Crystal Echo-Hawk, CEO of IllumiNative, the Native led racial and social justice organisation. She then introduced me to representatives of the Pawnee and Cheyenne Nations each of whom are specialists in the cultural and military history of their respective Nations. The journey taken with IllumiNative and the Pawnee and Cheyenne advisors, has been long, detailed and hugely rewarding.”

Chaske Spencer as Eli Whipp in The English

(Image credit: Diego López Calvín/Drama Republic/BBC)

How many episodes are there of The English?

The English is a limited series consisting of six episodes in total. The series began airing on Thursday November 10, at 9pm on BBC Two. New episodes air every week at 9pm, with the final episode set to air on December 15.

When asked about the inspiration behind the cinematic style for the series, writer Hugo Blick said “It’s all about the light, how it falls on landscape and character. Cinematographer Arnau Valls Colomer and I studied the genre carefully, particularly its mid-twentieth century period. On location we scheduled for the late afternoon when the dust was up and the sun low: Back-lit by sun and front-lit by arc light, I found the results impressive, although it could be blinding to the actors.”

He added “We shot 2.39:1 CinemaScope using a limited selection of Panavision Anamorphic lenses. I didn’t want to move the camera, so spent a good deal of the time figuring out where best to place it so we wouldn’t have to.”

Valerie Pachner as Martha Myers and Stephen Rea as Robert Marshall in The English

(Image credit: Diego López Calvín/Drama Republic/BBC)

Where can I watch the The English?

As well as being on BBC2 at 9pm every Thursday, all 6 episodes of The English are now available to watch on BBC iPlayer. The series debuted for US audiences on Amazon Prime video on November 11.

BBC iPlayer is a totally free service - you only need to register an account. Once you’ve set up an account, you can watch live BBC channels, and catch up with any shows you've missed.

When asked if she thought the series would appeal to global audiences regardless of their location, Emily Blunt said “The English will resonate with a global audience no matter where they live because, don’t we all need that wide screen epic adventure classic? I think we all look for that kind of escapism, to be swept away and kidnapped by a world, and this is that world.” 

Nichola McAuliffe as Black Eyed Mog in The English

(Image credit: Diego López Calvín/Drama Republic/BBC)

The English: Soundtrack

The musical score for The English has been composed by Federico Jusid. He has previously composed music for 2018's Watership Down, Life Itself, and The Secret in Their Eyes. The series also features music from Crooked Still, and The Wailin' Jennys. Here is all the music features, episode by episode:

Episode 1 - What You Want and What You Need

  • Some Say (I Got Devil) – Melanie

Episode 2 - Path of the Dead

  • Into Dust – Mazzy Star

Episode 3 - Vultures on the Line

  • Katie Cruel – Ora Cogan

Episode 4 - The Wounded Wolf

  • You Cut Her Hair – Tom McRae

Episode 6 - Cherished 

  • Crucify Your Mind – Rodriguez
  • Long Time Traveller – The Wailin’ Jennys
  • American Tune – Crooked Still

The English: Reviews

The English reviews are currently largely positive, with the series holding a critic score of 79%, and audience score of 71% on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.

Judy Berman from TIME Magazine said "the conflict between ruthless, lawless self-interest and the human instinct to form bonds of mutual care has always been central to the western genre. Yet it’s rare to see a variation on the theme achieve the depth and poignance of The English."

Lucy Mangan from The Guardian was full of praise for the show, offering 5 stars out of 5. She said "Emily Blunt’s sweeping western is a rare, sensational masterpiece. Hugo Blick’s revelatory series is a gorgeous, glorious new take on the old west – a lawless land where no one can hear you, or anyone in your way, scream."

An audience member wrote "Fantastic show. Quirky, great acting, outstanding direction, well constructed dialogue with humour, and most importantly you care about the main characters. Real spaghetti western vibes with a Pawnee Clint Eastwood and a whole host of other interesting characters played by really well known actors. Haven't seen a western this good since Dances with Wolves and actually this is better, Blick's script matching the beautiful landscape."

Another added in agreement "Loved it, very Guy Ritchie, cinematic, violent - but artsy - loved the acting, some great actors doing a sterling job. Emily Blunt's complex character - and interaction with others in this unfolding story of the tough / scary environment at the time is highly recommended."

Related BBC Features:

Video of the Week

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.