The English Game
From the very first episode of this period drama about football, set in the late 1800s, you’re going to pick up a distinct Downton Abbey vibe. That’s because it’s created and written by none other than Julian Fellowes.
His touch is palpable. The series is lavishly gorgeous, from costumes to locations, and the dialogue is almost comforting for fans who are missing the Crawleys, and their below-stairs staff. For in The English Game, the British class system is once again addressed.
The story begins in 1879, with the Old Etonians (the toffs) playing an FA cup match against Darwen FC (a team of common cotton mill workers). The game of football had begun as one played only by the upper class at public schools like Eton, and by their rules, established in 1863.
This particular game was pivotal because two Lancashire-based Scots had become the first to be paid for playing, at a time when the public schools wanted to keep the game strictly amateur. The paying and trading of players, which has become a multi-million-Pound business, had its roots in this time.
You need have no particular passion for the beautiful game to enjoy this six-part sports drama, although those who do will no doubt be enthralled by the history. It’s about the development of football and how it was – and is – played, as well as the conflict and relationships between the upper and lower classes, and how the former relentlessly try to keep the latter downtrodden. It’s about being sporting and sportsmanlike as emotions run high. It’s about advantage and privilege, and disadvantage and desperation. It’s about standing up for what you believe to be the right thing to do, even if it may be detrimental to you. It’s masculine, and it’s feminine; woman play strong roles, and fight for causes of their own. It’s about winning and losing, heartbreak and love.
And in the current absence of live sport, The English Game could not have been released at a better time.
IMDB rating: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 67%