Peaky Blinders is a British crime drama series that originally premiered on September 12th, 2013 on BBC Two. It was picked up for US distribution by Netflix the following year and has since developed a sizable cult following. The series follows the Peaky Blinders, a British street gang operated by the Shelby family, spearheaded by the charismatic, intelligent Tommy Shelby, played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy. Murphy is widely known for portraying Johnathon Crane/Scarecrow in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Murphy also starred in the horror thriller 28 Days Later, the science-fiction thriller Inception, the cult hit Sunshine, and Red Eye. The series was created by Steven Knight, who wrote the screenplay for the brilliant thriller Eastern Promises.
This review is supposed to specifically cover the third series, but seeing as the plot is the most important part of the show and I would rather not spoil it, and the scripting, acting, cinematography, and other effects are right in line with the other series (as they should be) this has simply morphed into an analysis of the series as a whole.
I’ve heard some of my fellow Americans make comparison to Sons of Anarchy. Sons of Anarchy doesn’t have jack on Peaky Blinders. I admittedly was not a big fan of SOA. I watched the first season and found the acting melodramatic, the production value cheesy, and the pacing inconsistent. Here, everything is clockwork. The cinematography, directed by George Steel, is the main aspect that provides the series with a slick look that is more appealing than some major Hollywood films. Also interesting is the anachronistic, yet fitting alternative rock soundtrack that keeps pace with the more violent sequences of the series. The cast is impeccable and Cillian Murphy balances the three conflicting parts of Tommy Shelby (the strategic thinking decorated World War I veteran who always thinks ten steps ahead, the charming Bondian ladies man/diplomat who refuses to let emotions effect his business, and the traditional Shelby traits of rash, violent, short-term, brainless, impulses, which usually end with some poor guy viciously attacked) so perfectly he is one of the most interesting protagonists on television. The friggin’ awesome haircut helps a lot, too. Dude can also pull off a suit and cap better than Daniel Craig did in Spectre Cillian Murphy is a brilliant actor who I hope to see in more mainstream work due to the overseas impact and success of this series.
One of the core aspects that makes Tommy, despite being a ruthless gangster, such an empathetic character is his wholehearted devotion to his family. He’s Michael Corleone with a better stylist and a cooler accent. The three elder Shelby brothers all struggle with some form of PTSD from their time in the war. Tommy is plagued by nightmares and chronic bouts of anxiety and mood swings. His older brother Arthur struggles with alcoholism, depression, mood swings of quite an extreme nature, as well as suicide attempts, and is the most disturbed, but also the most sympathetic, of the entire organization. John Shelby is the youngest leader of the Blinders, and also the most impulsive, disrespectful and outright stupid of the three. Helen McCrory stands out as the blunt, ruthless, and intelligent Aunt Polly, the de facto matriarch of the Shelby family and second-in-command of the organization. Polly is Tommy’s intellectual equal; she was in charge of the organization while the boys were fighting the war, and at points will override Tommy’s decisions, even though he is in command, and nobody dare cross her. She is the most intimidating character on the show, and for being set in the early 20th century, that is impressive.
Peaky Blinders does something right that makes it a great show. It’s a small thing, but an important thing. Shows like 24, (I have a poster of Jack Bauer in my bedroom) which was amazing for the first five seasons (and the special event season Live Another Day in 2015), fall apart because they continued to raise the stakes season after season until Season 6, wherein the plot of that season (in a series with an already unrealistic basic premise) was completely laughable to the point of utter stupidity. While 24 is admittedly now a major part of the pop culture landscape and was once a truly great example of the capabilities of American television, there’s no denying that the series (which is being rebooted) eventually turned into a mere shadow of its former self. Shows like Peaky Blinders, Breaking Bad, and Boardwalk Empire, in addition to being crime dramas, all share another common aspect. The stakes are never raised. Walter White never stormed into the DEA office with a minigun, took hostages, and demanded to speak with the President about a flight to an uncharted island. That would be stupid, and everyone knew this. Peaky Blinders, like these other shows, is on a set path. It does not deviate, and even though it’s sleek, stylish, and violent, it is never explosive, it’s never a spectacle. It’s never “something you’ve never seen before.” In fact, Series 3 is extremely similar and in line with the rest of the show. It’s not more of the same, but it is naturally a continuation of the story without any gimmicks or stupid plot devices. And that is awesome. Peaky Blinders, like Breaking Bad, is made for a binge watch. I don’t know if it was on purpose, but it certainly is binge worthy. Like most good shows, I think, it doesn’t feel like a show, it feels like one big long continuous movie, and it should be treated as such.
The series is not without its flaws, nothing is without flaws, but none are so glaring as to effect the viewing experience. Peaky Blinders is, in a somewhat strange comparison, a three course meal at your favorite restaurant. Course one, course two, and course three may not be drastically different and might actually be very similar, but they were both absolutely friggin’ delicious. Already renewed for both a fourth and fifth series because of its immense popularity in its native Britain and its growing popularity overseas, I recommend this series to anyone, even those not a fan of the crime genre, because there is enough style, flair, and sophistication to this series that you will be drawn to it in spite of the fact it’s a show about a bunch of unstable brothers with razor blades in their caps. Go watch it now…
The Eyes of Cillian compel you.