The English Game has heart, but then don’t all sports stories that make it to the screen have heart? Think Remember the Titans for football, Hoosiers for basketball and A League of Their Own for baseball — women’s baseball that is. This six-part historical drama takes a look at soccer in England. Standardized by the Football Association (FA) in 1863, the game by the late 19th century is on the cusp of becoming popular, country and nationwide.
THE ENGLISH GAME (British, Netflix) ♦♦♦♦
Eleven London-based, upper-crust schools formed the governing body (FA) for a league of English gentlemen to play against one another under agreed upon rules. However, onto the scene come two Scottish players, recruited and paid by a cotton mill owner to take his working class Lancashire team to the FA Cup. So begins soccer’s transformation from an amateur to a professional game.
At its centre the series exposes the class system in England, privilege versus poverty. Representing the establishment is Arthur Kinnaird, the 11th Lord Kinnaird, a star player of the Old Etonians, who’s pitted against Fergus Suter, a stonemason from Glasgow. A satisfying story arc follows these key rivals in their competition, conflicts and romances. Battles ensue on pitches but also in factories and boardrooms as mill workers foment for better wages and working conditions.
Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) writes an engaging yarn. Perhaps melodrama makes an appearance in a few scenes, particularly in the character of Fergus’s father, a drunken, abusive ne’er-do-well. But the excellent production values in recreating the period plus superb casting and acting compensate for any overblown moments. No spoiler alerts, though the word predictable will occur to many viewers.
The English Game is not a perfect series but it is perfectly entertaining — and an enjoyable way to pick up a bit of history. •
P.S. Today soccer is the biggest global sport and the dominant sport in South America, Europe and Africa. The FIFA World Cup Final, played every four years to culminate a month-long tournament of 32 nations, regularly reaches more than a billion people.
P.P.S. My viewing partner gives The English Game ♦♦♦½.