‘The English Game’ reviews round-up: ‘Downton Abbey for boys’

The English Game premiered last week, but is it a winner or an own goal?

Set in 1870s England, Netflix’s brand new mini-series is written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.

The English Game tells the story of how modern football came from a joining together of Etonians and factory workers to create a sport now played by 250 million in more than 200 countries.

All six episodes of The English Game are available to watch exclusively on Netflix now.

Watch the trailer:


Based on true events, this 19th century period drama follows two footballers on opposite sides of a class divide who changed the game — and England — forever.

The cast is led by Edward Holcroft (Wolf Hall) and Kevin Guthrie (Dunkirk), alongside Henry Lloyd Hughes (Parade’s End), Craig Parkinson (Indian Summers), Kate Phillips (The Crown), Ben Batt (The Village), and Niamh Walsh (Jamestown).

We’ve rounded up a selection of reviews to help you decide if you’d like to watch it:


“Created by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, you know what you’re in for, and you know you can trust that the intricacy in the details won’t be overlooked.” ★★★ – Metro


“If all of this sounds like it’s not quite interesting to you – let’s face it, football isn’t for everyone – then we’d ask you to give The English Game a chance. What starts out as a football-centred drama series in the 1870’s quickly becomes a watchable rollercoaster of emotions with more edge to it than Downton Abbey ever had.” – Entertainment.ie


“Julian Fellowes scores with winning drama about the birth of football.” ★★★★ – The Telegraph


“Whereas Fellowes’ recent, self-penned Belgravia felt tiring and stuffy with its opulent rooms and pompous clichés, this much more fulfilling drama permits more space to breathe – crossing in tales of football, masculinity, class divisions, injustices to women (especially mothers), and spirited individualism. And there’s some cracking facial hair, too.” ★★★★ – Culture Whisper


“It is Downton Abbey for boys. It is terrible.” ★ – The Guardian


“There’s surprisingly little football in the first episode, but the mounting tension between the elite players who use brute force and underhand off-pitch tactics and the more skilful but rule-breaking working class team is interesting enough to propel the story along.” – iNews


“Apart from the novelty of having football at the centre of the action, The English Game has largely been compiled from a bunch of wheezy old cliches about class inequality…” ★★ – The Arts Desk


“Somewhere, deep down, there is a good drama in here. There’s a good drama to be made about how football has always been political, from its use as a recruiting tool in the First World War. But by god, this is not it.” – Esquire


“Suter, Love and Kinnaird were real people, yet except for a few Wikipedia page-deep facts, The English Game is fiction. It’s just more of the same soapy upstairs/downstairs formula Fellowes has been rehashing for years, with the usual cardboard characters, patronising stereotypes and dubious class politics (mill workers striking over pay cuts are depicted as malcontents).” ★ – Independent.ie


“This is not a series that deals much in ambiguities or shades of grey – it might be launching on a trendy streaming platform, but The English Game would feel equally at home on ITV in the cosy Sunday night drama slot previously occupied by Fellowes’s Downton and now taken up by his series Belgravia. But with all that having been said, the whole thing remains really rather watchable. Much of the credit for that has to go to the cast – particularly the two leads, Edward Holcroft and Kevin Guthrie, who lend a good deal of a vigour to proceedings.” ★★★ – Radio Times


Julian Fellowes’ new ITV drama Belgravia also debuted earlier this month.

The Downton Abbey movie is available on DVD on Amazon.