What I'm Watching: Peaky Blinders
Peaky Blinders returned to BBC2 last week and after last night's episode I can already feel the obsession taking hold of me again. I first jumped on the bandwagon last year, marathoning the box-set of seasons one and two, and fast became a fan of the Shelby family and their exploits. Or of watching them anyway - they're obviously not the best role models. Set in Birmingham amidst the aftermath of World War I, the show follows notorious gangsters the 'Peaky Blinders', so called for their trademark peaked caps with sewn in razorblades. Thomas Shelby is head of the gang and head of his family - and I hope that cough in the first episode wasn't a plot point, because Peaky Blinders would be nothing without its protagonist.
In series one, Tommy (Cillian Murphy) returned from the trenches with an impressive war record, a touch of post-traumatic stress and fewer morals than he left with. His aunt Polly (Helen McRory) kept the business running while the men were away, but now Tommy's back in charge. Being the second oldest and so not the natural ringleader, we know Tommy's the head man for a reason, and he proves it again and again. There are three other brothers - Arthur (the oldest) John and Finn - and a sister, Ada. It took me a while to work out who was who and what the relationships were, but once you're in with the family you're in it for the long haul. The characters are well developed and likeable, despite their (many) flaws and some shocking attempts at the Brummy accent. Polly's is particularly awkward, but Helen McRory's acting is so good it doesn't really matter.
The women of Peaky Blinders are tough and complex, but really this world belongs to the boys and so does the show in a lot of ways. It's basically a gangster series, with loads of violence, a fair bit of sex and drugs and just a very masculine vibe over-all. On the flip-side, there's some gorgeous period costumes, strong, pivotal female characters, romance (although not in the usual period-drama vein) also great music and writing that everyone can appreciate. Plus, Cillian Murphy is possibly the most attractive thing on TV since Richard Armitage in North and South.
The soundtrack is a big part of what makes Peaky Blinders so unique, as the show uses contemporary music despite the period setting. Somehow this makes everything seem more dynamic and exciting, as well as accessible to a modern audience. It's not overdone and you don't really register it after a while, but it adds so much to the atmosphere. And I love the theme song (Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.) The whole show is totally immersive, from the look (although I love trying to spot places I know, since they filmed a lot locally) to the gripping story-lines. Plus, it's original. I don't think I've ever watched a series set in Birmingham before, never-mind a gangster show, and I love that Stephen Knight, the creator, coined the idea from listening to old family stories. His great uncles were Peaky Blinders!
There are some great actors involved in the series too. Aside from Helen McRory and Cillian Murphy, series one sees the Peaky Blinders in a power struggle with Sam Neill's ruthless police inspector (I find it weird hearing him do any other accent than thick Belfast now) and in season two, as the Shelbys take their empire south, we meet Tom Hardy's Jewish gang leader. It's not just the famous names however, but the writing that makes me love these characters (Ada's my current favourite). The most interesting of which has got to be Tommy himself. Ruthless, clever and inexplicably likeable despite all the terrible things he does, he's a great anti-hero. There's definitely a good man inside there somewhere, but whenever you start to forget he's a gangster, he does something to remind you. Tommy protects the people he cares about but he also uses them, he's a war hero but also a hardened criminal. And then there's those beautiful blue eyes...
Basically it's a great show and I would recommend. It could do with a few more laughs, and the second series wasn't quite as good as the first, but it's not let me down so far. I also think the costumes deserve a proper mention - and for a change it's particularly the men's wardrobes that stand out. I'm even starting to like that trademark haircut.
- Series 1 trailer -
- New series (3) trailer -
(*Warnings and stuff*: This is rated 15 (in the UK) for the first series, and 18 for the second. The violence is is pretty extreme, there's some nudity, substance use and abuse, distressing scenes - you get the picture. )