EVERYONE is talking about BBC show ‘Peaky Blinders. Set in 1920s Birmingham, Steven Knight blends history with drama in a gripping period piece about the murderous Peaky Blinders and the man who leads them – Tommy Shelby. I’m a big fan of BBC television, particularly the way they tend to handle crime dramas. ‘Sherlock’ was spectactular (for the first 3 seasons), ‘Luther’ is one of my favourites, but ‘Peaky Blinders’ may have surpassed them both in terms of popularity. The haircuts have caught on, there’s Peaky Blinder themed parties, and “By order of the Peaky fuckin’ Blinders” can frequently be heard screamed in a questionable Brummy accent on a night out. So why has this show suddenly caught on so much, and does it deserve all the popularity?
I’m not usually such a fan of ‘period’ dramas, and so I didn’t watch this until the time the third season was out, but man am I glad I did. Once you get over how horrific the Birmingham accent is, and learn to understand what they’re all actually saying, you’re immersed in the world and it’s easy to binge through all 24 episodes. Lots of the credit for that should go to the creator and writer, Steven Knight. He said: “From the beginning we were looking to do a period piece that wasn’t like any period piece that had been done before. Americans have no fear of mythologizing their own history: 19th-century agricultural laborers become cowboys. In England, we’re almost embarrassed by that kind of thing but I wanted Peaky Blinders to have the same kind of boldness you see in American westerns.” The show is also very personal to him, as he has said that the ideas came to him from stories he was told as a boy: his mother worked for an illegal bookie and his great-uncle was actually in the Peaky Blinders. Knight wanted to take his boyhood stories and glamourise them for everyone to enjoy. He does this with a wonderful, poetic script that stays realistic and grounded, as well as with truly stunning cinematography. The camerawork in ‘Peaky Blinders’ is seldom seen on the small screen, with stylish cuts, gorgeous long takes and energy exuding from every frame. For a historical drama set in Birmingham of all places, the last thing you could call this show is boring.
The acting is also top-draw, with emotional and gripping performances from Anderson, McCrory, Neill, Cole and Rundle. Anderson and Cole in particular are hard to take your eyes off, as John and Arthur tend to steal every scene that they’re in. The numerous supporting characters are all solid too, and the show does a great job of conveying the larger world, rather than just focus on our ‘heroes’ in Birmingham. Adrien Brody joins the show in Season 4, and whilst he has received positive reviews for his performance, I have to disagree. Brody is a masterful actor, and his Oscar winning turn in ‘The Pianist’ was historic, but his cheap impersonation of Marlon Brando just doesn’t do it for me. His character is definitely menacing, and his acting would be superb…if Marlon Brando hadn’t done the exact same thing in 1972 in ‘The Godfather’. The best guest is by far Tom Hardy, who I am an enormous fan of. There’s almost too many remarkable Hardy performances to count, as he is undoubtedly one of the finest working actors in the world, and he adds his weight heavily to ‘Peaky Blinders’, playing manipulative Jewish gangster, Alfie Solomons. It’s a skill to act a character who is always acting and lying anyway, but Hardy is simultaneously hilarious and frightening, always leaving the viewers wanting more. However, the real star of the show is the lead, Cillian Murphy. Like Hardy, I’ve frequently seen Murphy in Christopher Nolan films, and he too has had an illustrious career. Murphy is an interesting character himself, shying away from interviews and the limelight and really focussing on his craft, which I think is excellent, and he really delivers in this series. Whilst Brody gives an impression of Brando, Murphy’s Tommy Shelby really does evoke memories of Michael Corleone. There’s almost too many similarities to count: they’re both proud war veterans, they’re both family leaders despite not being the oldest (and the Tommy – Arthur dynamic is all too similar to the Michael – Fredo one), they’re both highly intelligent and they both don’t mind killing. The ‘crime family’ genre will always be owned by ‘The Godfather’, but ‘Peaky Blinders’ definitely holds its own rather than just copying it. Murphy is a fantastic actor, showing us pain, brutality, love, anxiety, intelligence, all whilst acting relatively dead-eyed (a deliberate choice, not poor acting). Knight even said that “On the screen, Cillian’s so intimidating, especially the way his eyes are dead. He was really keen about playing this shut-down, closed off quality that you see in people coming back from the war after they’ve seen their best friends blown up into 10 different pieces.”
The story of ‘Peaky Blinders’ is hardly ground-breaking, but it’s the way that it’s executed that makes it special. Blending hardcore British history with stylish modern cinematography, all set to heavy guitars and pounding drums is no easy task, but Knight does it wonderfully. Indeed, the music goes a long way to bringing us into the period, and by using bands such as The White Stripes rather than 1920s music, we feel thrust into the vibrant and chaotic streets of Birmingham, with the music dictating our feelings. Despite the shocking accents and even more shocking haircuts, this series deserves to be on air for a long, long time, and I hope it is. If you haven’t seen it and don’t mind lots and lots and lots of swearing, check it out. I can’t wait for the next season.
Best episode: Season 2, Episode 6
Best character: Alfie Solomons
Best actor./actress: Cillian Murphy
Best quote: “Right? No fighting. No fucking fighting. No fighting. NO. FUCKING. FIGHTING. Good.” – Tommy Shelby