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Emily’s very wild western! Emily Blunt reveals why filming her epic cowboy saga was no easy ride

As a blood red sun sets across a deserted plain in Wyoming, Lady Cornelia Locke is reminiscing about the chance meeting with army veteran Eli Whipp that would end up saving both their lives and taking them on a dangerous, romantic and bloodthirsty adventure. 

So begins The English, an epic six-part Western about race, revenge and love starting on BBC2 this week. Created and directed by Hugo Blick of The Honourable Woman and The Shadow Line fame, it’s a modern take on the cowboy classics of the 1950s. 

Central to the tale is Lady Cornelia, played by Emily Blunt, an English aristocrat whose desire to avenge the murder of her son drives her to the lawless plains of the American mid west in the 1890s. 

Emily Blunt (pictured) is starring in a new six-part Western about race, revenge and love. She plays an English aristocrat whose desires to avenge the murder of her son

There she meets an unlikely saviour in Eli (Chaske Spencer), a Pawnee Native American ex-cavalry scout who’s out to claim land he believes is his, and together they embark on a perilous journey to exact their claims for justice, unaware that they’re also rooted in a shared past. 

‘I was completely kidnapped by it within the first line,’ says Emily, 39, who also served as executive producer. 

‘It’s Alice in a Wild West Wonderland. It’s a heart-stopping chase thriller with the most tender of love stories at its heart.

‘Cornelia is a fish out of water when she arrives. She’s in this lacy pink dress and looks so ill-prepared for this dustridden, violent, masculine world. 

‘You think, “She’s never going to make it” but by the end she’s had a remarkable transformation.’ 

Casting Chaske, a Native American, in a starring role in a Western is a first in a genre dominated by white A-listers, and Hugo engaged Pawnee and Cheyenne advisors to ensure an authentic portrayal. 

Emily's character Lady Cornelia meets an unlikely saviour in Eli (Chaske Spencer, pictured), a Pawnee Native American ex-cavalry scout who’s out to claim land he believes is his

Emily’s character Lady Cornelia meets an unlikely saviour in Eli (Chaske Spencer, pictured), a Pawnee Native American ex-cavalry scout who’s out to claim land he believes is his

‘It was important to me that they provided me with a map of where Eli was going,’ says Chaske, 47, who starred in The Twilight Saga. ‘But it wasn’t until we got onto set and I put on the costume and the hair that I really felt I was that character. 

‘As a Native American man, it’s rare to be the lead in a project like this. It’s a beast of a role, but I had amazing support from Hugo, Emily and the crew. It made me feel comfortable to take risks.’ 

Hugo was inspired to write the show by his experiences living in Montana at the age of 18, when he learned to ride and hunt on Native American reservations. ‘I had a hunting buddy I called Chief,’ he recalls. 

It’s Alice in a Wild West Wonderland, a heartstopping thriller with the most tender of love stories. – EMILY BLUNT 

‘He called me English. We were easy with this casual racism but soon I saw it was a one-way street, with all the heavy traffic heading his way. 

‘I never knew his real name, nor he mine. This was a kernel for The English.’

Hugo also sent his scripts to IllumiNative, an organisation in the US which challenges the narrative about Native people. ‘I wanted viewpoints and I was pleased to receive positive feedback,’ he says. 

One of the biggest surprises for Emily was the British influence on the era, with landed gentry heading west to set up beef farms in Wyoming. 

‘I didn’t realise how much of the aristocracy went to America to buy huge plots of land,’ she says. ‘In some ways their invasion was the start of the cowboy period.’ 

Filming took place on a beef farm in Avila, near Madrid, where Spain’s prairies replicated the plains of Wyoming, and Emily used Covid filming delays to perfect her horse-riding skills. 

‘I’d ridden as a child, but not to this extent,’ she says. ‘I trained for four months and I’d ride two or three times a week. 

‘It was the best part, really learning how to ride and not just hold on for dear life! My horse, Ethos, became my soul buddy.’ 

One of the biggest surprises for Emily was the British influence on the era, with landed gentry heading west to set up beef farms in Wyoming

One of the biggest surprises for Emily was the British influence on the era, with landed gentry heading west to set up beef farms in Wyoming

However, shooting in the Spanish summer proved gruelling. ‘The heat was the main challenge,’ says Emily. 

‘I’d be in a corset, wool pants, a skirt, shirt, waistcoat and jacket. The corset was an oven on my organs. 

‘But when the sun was setting and the horses were kicking up the dust it added a shimmer to the look of the show, so I’m happy to take some heat.’ 

Chaske had his own method of dealing with the tough days. ‘They’re heavy characters and there were times when I went home and had to have a bottle of tequila.

‘ Well, maybe not a bottle! It was a fun journey to experience it from afar, God forbid I’d never really want to go there.’

  • The English, Thursday, 9pm, BBC2 and BBC iPlayer. 

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