Network: BBC Two
Originally Aired: September 12th, 2013
Creator: Steven Knight
Grace: You think I am a whore?
Tommy: Everyone’s a whore, Grace. We just sell different parts of ourselves.
Background: Peaky Blinders? Yes, that’s right, but don’t rule it out for its quirky title. This historic crime drama set in 1919 Birmingham gets its unique title from an actual gang that sewed razors blades on the fringes of their caps. Whether or not the original Peaky Blinders were a single gang or a title for rowdy, violent youth is debatable. The show, however, settles on shadowing the lives of a single gang family: the Shelby Family.
Overview: Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), the bookie and brains behind the Peaky Blinders, is a cool, clever man with eyes as chilling and morbid as death. After returning from the war, like many men, he is changed. Tommy takes up the business that his aunt Polly (Helen McCrory) ran for four years while he was away at war. Despite the past that dogs him and the enemies that swarm him, Tommy slaves to bring power and legitimacy to his family name. His plans are tested by Inspector Campbell (Sam Neill), a ruthless man sent from Belfast by Winston Churchill to retrieve stolen weapons.
What’s New?: While watching the show I had to rewind at many places; the shots and settings amazed me (though admittedly I also rewound a lot to catch the words of the characters, one probably led to the other). The shots are stunning, and the scene transitions are seamless, effortlessly merging different plots into dynamic montages.
It is hard to define something because the moment that we do we limit what it can be. Peaky Blinders is more than its drama, dazzling shots, striking characters and dynamic plot. It offers a new take on period dramas by changing the dialogue. The conversations in this show are fresh and new, not relying on the typical quick exchanges of overused clichés found in most gangster-cop dramas. The writers and editors put time into crafting the utterances of every character. For this, the characters seem authentic, so many of Tommy and Campbell’s lines can stand alone as iconic quotes. We can believe that Tommy is cold, fragmented, sincere, conflicted and intelligent and not feel conflicted by this knowledge. Inspector Campbell is creepy, terrifying, and menacing all at once, with his overbearing stalk. Campbell cannot be summed up as good, nor Tommy as bad; these characters and their motives are too complex to be described in a single word.
Aunt Pol is a provocative female character, but not in the expected sense. She is neither the hard-ass woman nor the needy woman, she is simply herself. Strong female characters are sometimes defined by their ability to be like men and shake off “female tendencies”, but in her actions, Aunt Pol works against this convention. She cunningly uses her sex to advantage herself (her scene with Campbell is brilliant). Those who demand respect from others, often receive fear instead; Aunt Pol doesn’t demand it yet is respected and feared nonetheless.
And then there is Grace (Annabelle Wallis), not to be ignored with her angelic, sad voice. She is beautiful, and seemingly out of place in the dirty, rough slums of Birmingham. But there is more to her than her controlled, calculated actions let on (that’s all I will say).
Final Thoughts: There is no doubt in my mind that period dramas will continue to be conceived, developed and birthed by major networks; bastard drama offspring produced from a single mother plot. But Peaky Blinders varies from the main stream current, daring to give audiences a new take on historic dramas, conventional characters and character dialogue.
What makes you hooked on Peaky Blinders? Why do you think modern audiences have such a preoccupation with historic dramas?