TV Review: The English Game (2020)

Not even a precious few shots of rippling abs and a cast full of talent can save the mad folly of The English Game, someone stop Julian Fellowes now please

“Lads, football is not complicated”

Who would have thought it? Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford has zero facility for writing Northern working class characters. (Or on this evidence, any characters at all.) Not having watched Downton Abbey in any meaningful way (though I did suffer through the film), I wasn’t prepared for just how cringeworthily bad it would be in his Netflix series The English Game.

I remembered Lucy Mangan’s excoriation of the show in the Guardian just as the first lockdown kicked in but it has taken me this long to get round to watching it myself, despite Netflix constantly flicking it onto my homepage. And there’s actually something quite magisterial in just how jawdroppingly awful the first episode is, even with the changing room scenes that have somehow been screenshotted here.

There’s an interesting story to be told in the way that football developed from an amateur game for the upper classes into the professional game that ostensibly cuts across class boundaries, but this isn’t it. Along with a team of co-writers, series creators Fellowes, Tony Charles and Oliver Cotton are intent on following the puerile tropes of the worst kind of patronising and offensive stereotyping in a crudely reductive approach.

Not a line of dialogue from any character from any class rings with any sort of authenticity. No character is allowed any shade of nuance – plucky but gobby Northerners square up to posh but caddish toffs and for good measure, there’s some social history thrown in so that the women can do more than just cheer up their husbands from the stands. But are the travails of unmarried mothers dealt with with any sensitivity? What do you think…?! 

The English Game isn’t even so bad it is good, it is just bad. Fortunately, the first episode encapsulates all of the horror into a single hour so you can just watch that for the lolz and then delete it out of your ‘continue watching’ list ASAP.

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