Why on earth would I review a television show in an arts review journal? Put simply BBC Two’s Peaky Blinders is as close as it’s possible to get to a truly artistic experience on television. If you don’t believe me, here’s a quick search of Google Image. I maintain that you’d pay money to see a photographic exhibition of this quality. The composition of every shot is considered, the lighting reminiscent of a recent wander through the Rijksmuseum. OK that last is probably a bit controversial, but I think you’ve grasped that I’m a rabid fan, and that’s even before I consider the dark moody backdrop provided by Nick Cave’s classic Red Right Hand alongside contemporary artists including Radiohead, Bowie, Artic Monkeys, and PJ Harvey. Or the chiseled cheekbones of Cillian Murphy. Bliss.
We’re now three seasons into the saga of the 1920s Birmingham crime family led by Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy). We’ve been through man hunts, turf wars, marriages, deaths, rises and falls. The series is based on the notorious local gang Peaky Blinders, known for their flat peaked caps that by legend, had razor blades sewn into the peak so they could be used as weapons. So no, there is no shying away from violence, which is at once more brutal and yet less gratuitous than you’d expect. Violence is communication in this era, for these people.
But for all the money and power, what drives Thomas, is social legitimacy. He’s climbing out of the pits, quite literally. He wants to take his family with him, but finds that they are not always willing or able to change. And therein lies the heart of the story, a magnificent human, family story. People falling in love, striving for love, betraying those you they love. Yet, for all it’s emotional punch, the writing never descends into soap, words are chosen carefully and less is always more.
Murphy plays his gangster with magnificent control, supported by a wonderful cast including the outstanding Helen McCrory as the family matriarch, Polly. You can enjoy her work in this clip, one of the quieter moments, where much is communicated about the core conflict of wealth vs. status at both a society and personal level.
A treasure chest of clips, music and show background is available at the BBC website. If you are amongst those who’ve let this one slip by, I thoroughly recommend that you catch up on Seasons 1-3 and get ready for Season 4, coming 2017.