I can't help but feel Netflix has pulled a masterstroke combining period drama and the world's most popular sport. On paper, a story about the formation of Association Football would have limited appeal. Yet, this six-part series from ‘Downton Abbey‘ creator Julian Fellowes skillfully blends the history of football and period drama into a compelling mini-series.
The story is told from the perspective of two very different football clubs. The ‘Old Etonians' is a team consisting of England's wealthiest elite. These Gentlemen amateurs consider themselves the guardians of the beautiful game. Having dominated the early years of football, the Old Etonian players are shaken when a team of working-class players from a Northern mill town resolve end the Etonian's grip on the FA Cup. This challenge to the status quo at a turbulent time in British history sets up the series to tackle class issues off and on the pitch.
The show has two main characters, Arthur Kinnaird (Edward Holcroft), the upper-class captain of the Old Etonians, and Fergus Suter (Kevin Guthrie), a talented Scottish player who is being illegally paid to play for working-class club ‘Darwin FC'. The differences between the two players and their clubs reflect the broader societal changes taking place in England at the time.
The story is based on real events and the critical moments of the series are broadly accurate. Although, I expect a large amount of artistic license was taken to keep the story engaging. You don't need an interest in the game to enjoy the series. First and foremost, this is a drama with football as a backdrop, and it also serves as a halfway decent historical explanation of games formative years.
The cast is excellent — especially Edward Holcroft and Kevin Guthrie. Niamh Walsh also gives a decent performance as Martha Almond, the unmarried housemaid who struggles to raise her daughter in a society which often abandoned unmarried mothers to their fate.
Overall, ‘The English Game' is a thoroughly entertaining drama. The costumes are fantastic and the series captures the era perfectly. Performances from the cast move the story along with skill. It's fair to say you won't find many series that appeal to football fans and lovers of period dramas – that makes ‘The English Game' a sure-fire winner for date night viewing.