Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes is turning his hand (or foot?) to something new and unexpected in 2020 with new Netflix series The English Game.
The period drama will explore the origins of football, tracking it back to Northern England in the mid-1800s.
Here’s everything we know about the show.
When is The English Game released on Netflix?
The six-part drama will be released on Friday 20th March 2020 on Netflix.
Production began in England in spring 2019.
Former Line of Duty star Craig Parkinson told RadioTimes.com in May that he was filming in Yorkshire, with production (for his parts at least) set to run through July.
“We’re filming all around Yorkshire and the North West at the moment until the end of July,” he said. “I feel extremely lucky to be working with all these brilliant people on great projects, it’s a very exciting time.”
Who is in the cast of The English Game?
Edward Holcroft (the Kingsman film series) and Kevin Guthrie (Sunshine on Leith) lead the series as, respectively, Arthur Kinnaird – known as the ‘First Lord of Football’ – and Glasgow native Fergus Suter, who is often considered the first recognised professional footballer.
“There’s a certain passing of the baton from Kinnaird, who’s slightly towards the end of his career, to a boy [Suter] that he sees is going to take the game where it needs to go,” Holcroft explained.
Get Netflix and on demand news and recommendations direct to your inbox
Sign up to receive our newsletter!
Thanks for signing up!
Already have an account with us? Sign in to manage your newsletter preferences
“Kinnaird sees the vision. He says to his players and friends: ‘You don’t see this. This is where the game has to go – the passing game. It’s beautiful. They need to play it, and we need to help them.’ It’s that recognition in one another, I think, that makes them so special.”
“He did really change the game, Fergus Suter,” said Fellowes. “He brought the passing game down into England, but before, [football] was much nearer rugby. And they played quite violently. In the show, you know, when you’re watching them play at the beginning, you think, ‘My God, this wouldn’t be allowed for five seconds now!’.”
Aitken added: “You get the irony that it’s the upper-class characters who are playing a brutal game, but the workers from the mill are playing this elegant passing game. So it’s a complete role reversal on the pitch.”
Niamh Walsh (Jamestown), Charlotte Hope (Game of Thrones) and Craig Parkinson also appear in The English Game, alongside James Harkness, Sam Keeley, Gerard Kearns, Daniel Ings, Henry Loyd Hughes and Ben Batt.
Speaking to the show’s gender balance, actress Walsh – who plays Martha Almond – said, “Because of the historical records, we know much less about the women than we do about the men – but happily, not in this show. The women are very much front and centre, just as much as the fellas.”
“I don’t think strong women are a modern invention, you know?” Fellowes said. “They’ve always been strong people. And in different societies they have to adapt in different ways in order to get what they want.”
The series is directed by Birgitte Stærmose (The Spanish Princess) and Tim Fywell (Grantchester).
What is The English Game about?
The series will chart the origins of football and explore “how those involved in its creation reached across the class divide to establish thegame as the world’s most popular sport”, according to a release from Netflix.
“I’m a football fan and I didn’t know this story,” said star Rory Aitken. “I hadn’t seen anything like it on television, so I was as excited as anyone to delve into the history and discover it.
“The fact that the sort of social changes in Britain and the changes in football mirrored each other – well, that’s incredibly interesting. Because it’s notoriously hard to make any drama or films about sport, because you can see amazing, dramatic sports on television every weekend and pretty much every weekday now.
“So really, to see how it plays out in a dramatic context other than on the pitch is something that suddenly we realised could work on the screen as a TV drama. And Julian is as much of a historian as a drama writer, and really understood that period and how to dramatise it.”
“I think that football fans will learn an incredible amount from this series,” Fellowes said. “It’s a massive education.”
In order to prepare for the series, the cast required to play football onscreen trained at Trafford Training Centre in Carrington, the training ground of Manchester United.
“Fortunately, we did have a very talented bunch of actors, but they all had to train [to learn] all of the moves that we had in the show,” Aitken explained. “In some ways, that was probably one of the most challenging parts of the shoot, because shooting football is slow and technical. So it was months of training – and also they weren’t only learning all the movies, but they were training to play in the style they would have played in the 1880s, which as incredibly different to how it is now.”