Peaky Blinders returns with a vengeance for a second season that builds on the solid foundation set last year, improving in almost every way. With the stakes higher than ever before and the Shelby’s setting their sights on a lucrative trade deal in London, the 6 episodes see the Birmingham gang in way over their heads, building toward a climactic finale that leaves the door wide open for the third season.
After the shocking climax to last year’s finale, we pick up in Birmingham two years later. The Peaky Blinders are running the show, with Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) fronting the company as leader. An explosion early on in the first episode rocks the town as Thomas’ pub, The Garrison, is blown to pieces and reduced to rubble. It soon becomes clear this is part of a larger plot, one that sees Thomas forced to conduct an assassination on a high-stakes target while expanding his criminal empire into the uncharted waters of London. If this wasn’t enough, Arthur’s (Paul Anderson) unpredictable mental state and Polly’s (Helen McCrory) need for closure around the well-being of her lost children flesh out the six episodes, culminating in a climactic finale that finalises these stories.
Thomas’ excellent character development saw him wrestling with his harrowing experiences in the war during the first season. This year, the threat is far more prominent and deadly, with London bringing higher stakes and far more stress for Thomas to deal with. From blackmails and beatings to high-pressure negotiations, it’s safe to say Thomas’ character goes through a lot this year. Thankfully, the added inclusion of horse trainer Esme (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) brings a much needed softer side to his demeanor through the episodes. While she lacks the same charismatic charm as Grace (Annabelle Wallis), she more than makes up for it with a steely determination and a curious tenacity that helps set her apart from the other characters.
There’s far more emphasis on the supporting players of the Peaky Blinders this season too with both Arthur and Polly given compelling arcs to their stories. Polly’s crusade to find her son ends partway through the season, with a softer side to her tough demeanor explored for the first time, helping to really add an extra layer to her personality. Arthur, on the other hand, quickly descends into chaos with his mental well-being in jeopardy for much of the season. This constantly builds to the end of the season where his addiction to narcotics reaches fever pitch. While the rest of the characters do well to maintain the personas they built from last year, including Sam Neill as the despicable Inspector Campbell, it’s the newcomers this year that really shine.
Unhinged Darby Sabini (Noah Taylor) adds a layer of unpredictability to London’s volatile criminal underworld and his iron grip over the capital is a force to be reckoned with. Thomas comes to realize this very early on in the season and it helps build him up as a credible threat. The wildcard this year and arguably the most endearing character is Jewish man Alfie Solomons. Brought to life through an impressive performance from Tom Hardy, Solomons gleefully skips between both sides of the conflict, perfectly injecting a sickening sense of humour in the process. These two characters in particular prove formidable foes for Tommy who constantly walk a fine line around these two men. Not to mention Inspector Campbell’s continued presence too.
Once again Peaky Blinders does a great job bringing the 1920s to life. With the added inclusion of London, there’s an extra emphasis on bringing the capital to life along with Birmingham’s grimy, poor districts. From a glitzy, prestigious club that erupts into a brawl or the various establishing shots of London itself, Peaky Blinders continues to impress with its set and production design.
Overall, the second season of Peaky Blinders improves in almost every way. With more emphasis on the supporting characters and the inclusion of several charismatic antagonists to this year’s line up, when it comes to the characters, it’s hard to fault Peaky Blinders. Seeing Thomas try to navigate the murky criminal underworld with foes on all side is something this second season does incredibly well. While there are inevitable lulls in the overall narrative, for the most part Peaky Blinders does an excellent job improving on the first season, once again delivering a satisfying slice of crime drama.
Verdict - 8.5/10