Prime Video’s ‘The English’ is an expansive Western drama that intertwines the lives of Cornelia and Eli. While she is an aristocratic Englishwoman out for revenge, Eli’s motivations are more docile in nature. Having lost his family and home all those years ago, he now hopes to have a few acres of land to his name so that he can spend the rest of his life in peace. Destiny, however, has different plans in store for him, and instead of a quiet life, he is immersed in bloody battles that create a significant body count. If all the ups and downs in Eli’s life make you wonder whether his character has been inspired by someone who went through a similar arc in their life, then here’s what you should know.
Was Eli Whipp A Real Person?
While the character of Eli Whipp is not entirely based on one person, writer-director Hugo Blick did sketch his origins inspired by a man he used to know when he was eighteen. Talking about how he came upon the idea to write ‘The English’, he talked about the time he spent in Montana, living with a family friend. This is when he met a Native American. “We made a hunting buddy I called Chief. He wasn’t a chief. He called me English,” Blick said.
It was while talking to Chief that Blick realized the casual racism that Native Americans have to deal with. He also discovered the difficulties in the life of a person living on the reservation, and how people have lost so much over the generations that they often have nothing to come home to. It was when Chief left one day, never to return again that Blick started thinking about the whole thing and couldn’t let go of it. “One day he took off, leaving a couple of bags with us for when he came back. He didn’t. Nothing to come back for. I never knew his real name, nor he mine. I regretted that. This was a kernel for The English,” the director said.
Blick had been a huge fan of the Western genre, but all of these films were about the daring adventures of a white man. When he sat down to write ‘The English’, he decided that it would unfold from the perspective of a Native American. This meant that Eli would have a lot of things in his past, be it his personal baggage or the generational trauma of his people, which fed into the characteristic of him being the silent type.
Actor Chaske Spencer informed his performance as Eli through his own experience as a Native American. “I tried to bring that to life and to represent him as genuinely as I possibly could,” he said. To him, Eli is a veteran who suffers from PTSD and other trauma along with grief over the loss of his loved ones. To understand the psyche of soldiers who have served in wars, the actor talked to war veterans. He brought that depth to the character where even in the face of minimalistic dialogues, he was able to portray the deepest emotions of Eli through his looks and demeanor.
Considering all this, one can say that while Eli Whipp is a fictional character, both the writer and the actor have done their best to bring a realistic flavor to him, which allows the audience to relate to him more closely, inviting greater investment into the story.