Raw, dramatic and surprisingly realistic, if you’re looking for an accurate depiction of 1920s England, look no further than Peaky Blinders. Revolving around a family determined to make its way to the top of the criminal underworld, Peaky Blinders revels in its grimy, dark depiction of Birmingham. There’s plenty of twist and turns along the way too, keeping you guessing and ending with a final shocking scene to close out 6 episodes of exquisite drama.
The story predominantly revolves around the Peaky Blinders, a group of suit-wielding, flat cap wearing men who run a small betting business in the heart of one of the poorest areas in Birmingham. Ambitious Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) finds his limits tested when a crate of lucrative guns winds up in his possession and he questions what to do with this dangerous present. Hot on the heels of the weapons is Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill), a cold, calculated Irishman who promises to return the guns to Winston Churchill and make the men responsible pay.
While Thomas, Arthur (Paul Anderson) and Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory) juggle the moral ambiguity attached to the right thing to do with the guns, Tommy sets his sights on growing the business, turning his attention to Billy Kimber’s (Charlie Creed-Miles) booming betting empire in a bid to oust him and take the lion’s share of the profits. This dual focus continues throughout the 6 episodes with both storylines converging and coming to a head in an explosive finale, delivering a satisfying and surprising ending to a solid first season.
When it comes to the characters, each of the key players are as charismatic as they are memorable, helped through some excellent acting all round. Tommy is easily the stand out of the show though; his mix of icy swagger and calculated ruthlessness makes him a formidable protagonist with the unpredictable Chester Campbell proving a worthy foe for him, helped by Sam Neill who absolutely nails his role. The various other characters all have their own quips and traits too, with Arthur’s hotheaded naivety contrasting nicely with the other members of the family as he struggles to reclaim his position as the front-runner of the business.
This character-driven focus works really nicely throughout the series too, with fragments of Tommy’s time in WWI haunting him through periods of the series. This, coupled with the various establishing shots and sweeping camera movements help establish not just the aesthetic of the time period, but also the mood and attitude of its various social classes. All of this is helped through a clever use of lighting which works predominantly on a moody orange palette, casting ominous shadows across faces and bathing scenes in a mysterious hue. This contrasts beautifully with the sickly bright scenes at Kimber’s estate as well as the scenes featuring higher-status characters out in the open during the day. It’s a small touch but something that works well throughout this 6 hour series.
Peaky Blinders is a rare gem of a crime drama. Not only does it portray the time period accurately with a dash of authentic set and costume design, it also manages to do so with a host of memorable characters at its core. Thomas is the star of the show though and Cillian Murphy portrays the man with such quiet ferocity it’s difficult not to be drawn to his character every time he enters a scene. While the story does feel unnecessarily convoluted at times, especially during the penultimate episode, Peaky Blinders just about manages to bring it together for a satisfying finale rife with tension and drama making for an impressive first season of entertainment and an intriguing prospect going forward.