Peaky Blinders is one of the best shows on television with a stellar cast, brutal violence, style galore and for season 4 especially plenty of action.
Plot: Peaky Blinders is a gangster family epic set in Birmingham, England in 1919, several months after the end of the First World War in November 1918. The story centres on the Peaky Blinders gang and their ambitious and highly cunning boss Tommy Shelby (played by Cillian Murphy).
I wasn’t sure whether to review Peaky Blinders on this site as it’s more of a crime drama rather than an all-out action series but I recently just finished watching it and there is enough action to be covered here so let’s take a look at the first 5 seasons of the Peaky Fuckin’ Blinders!
Warning: There may be some spoilers ahead so if you aren’t up to date with the show then best not to read on.
Plot: In Birmingham just after the Great War trenches veteran Thomas Shelby leads his gang, the Peaky Blinders, so named as they carry lethal razors in their peaked caps, who make money from illegal betting and the black market. Thomas, by mistake, appropriates a consignment of guns which have been stolen from the local arms factory and hard-nosed Inspector Campbell arrives from Ireland, charged by war minister Winston Churchill to recover it. Thomas’s aunt Polly urges him to return it but he sees the opportunity to use it to his advantage. Thomas also quarrels with his elder brother Arthur as Thomas has devised the ‘powder trick’, a means of fixing horse races and Arthur is nervous as Thomas has not involved Billy Kimber, who runs the race-courses and their rackets. Thomas’s sister Ada is in love with Freddie Thorne, who saved her brother’s life in the war, and is now a Marxist, encouraging workers to strike over a pay cut. As far as Campbell is concerned Freddie is as much the enemy – in the wake of the Russian revolution – as the Peaky Blinders, as he looks for the missing guns.
Review: The first season of Peaky Blinders gives us a TV show unlike anything we have seen before; it has moments of disturbing violence, a wonderful sense of style and perfect choice of music. The characters are magnetic and Cillian Murphy once again proves he is one of the best actors working today. His steely eyes and unreadable facial expressions make him perfectly cast as Tommy Shelby, leader of Birmingham gang The Peaky Blinders who are ever expanding in unpredictable ways. Tommy and his brothers recently returned from fighting in the war but all of them have been changed forever; they essentially all have various forms of PTSD and handle it in their own ways mostly through booze, sex and drugs. Arthur is played to terrifying perfection by Paul Anderson and steals most of the show with his violent outbursts but he also has a sense of hopelessness, broken by the effects of war.
Sam Neill gives a career best performance as Chester Campbell who is the series antagonist who works for Winston Churchill and begins to have a vendetta against the Peakies. He is menacing every moment he is on screen and just a hateful bastard. At one point (in season 2) he essentially rapes Tommy’s sister Polly (Helen McGrory) which I think might be one of the toughest scenes of the entire series to sit through. It’s unflinching television and at times the violence may be too much for some but I do find the style, characters, writing and music all so engaging that you’ll keep coming back for more.
Undercover officer Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis) works for Campbell and tries to infiltrate the Peaky Blinders and reports back to him however, she didn’t anticipate falling for Tommy thus complicating her life a great deal. Campbell also has feelings for her which just makes him hate Shelby even more so you know it’s not going to end well.
Tommy’s sister Ada is as tough as they come and not particularly likeable but you can see why as Tommy has been very controlling of her life and her relationship with Freddy. As the show progresses she becomes one of the more powerful family members and it’s great to watch her develop over the coming seasons. Tommy is a master manipulator and not a particularly nice person but his sheer charisma has you rooting for him anyway.
Overall, season 1 of Peaky Blinders is a bold TV series with plenty of swagger; it has characters that are immediately engaging (if not always sympathetic) and despite it getting incredibly intense and violent at times it’s never less than phenomenal stuff.
Plot: Two years have elapsed. Freddie has succumbed to illness and at his funeral Thomas asks Ada to return home though she is scornful that he has been so successful with his mix of legal and illegal businesses. When his pub the Garrison is blown up he goes straight to the Black Lion to accuse his Irish rivals, who have a proposition for him involving murder. Returning home he informs the family that he plans to expand his bookies’ business to London but John’s wife Esme warns him of its dangers given the existing racial turf wars. He takes Arthur and John to London to a club run by Darby Sabini, who controls the southern race courses, where they are anything but welcome. Back in Birmingham Ada is abducted by Sabini’s thugs, who give Thomas a severe beating, his being saved by the reappearance of Chester Campbell, who has told Churchill that he has a new undercover agent working in the area. Polly meanwhile visits a medium for news of the children who were taken from her in infancy.
Review: Like it says above the second season takes place 2 years after the events of the first and Campbell is still alive after being shot by Grace and remains a genuine threat to Tommy and the Blinders.
This season introduces one of my favourite characters – Alfie Solomons played by the incomparable Tom Hardy. He has the gift of being utterly petrifying even when he is playing a good guy but in this show we are rarely sure of what Alfie is but he is not someone you should trifle with. Alfie is unpredictable and intimidating and his scenes with Tommy are always nail-biting as we never know what is going to happen.
Tommy always seems to be one step ahead of his enemies but maybe this time he may not be as clever as he thinks as he is forced to work for the IRA and his volatile relationship with Campbell comes to a violent (but poetic) conclusion. So much happens in this show that I can’t cover everything but I’ll just say that season 2 continues to have the amazing sense of style as the first and Birmingham looks genuinely like Hell on Earth… which admittedly isn’t much of a stretch.
The acting is once again first rate with the usual amazing dialogue and graphic violence although this is probably my least favourite season as it is arguably the most relentlessly grim. I know a few people who gave up watching the show at this point but I recommend sticking with it as it only gets better.
Overall, Season 2 expands the characters nicely and wraps up the Campbell story arc so by the time season 3 comes around we’ll have a new antagonist that takes the story in a different direction.
Plot: The Shelby family and their kin have been invited, as well as Grace’s family. Composed of cavalrymen, Irish members of the British Army, Grace’s family dismays the Shelby family, due to the cavalry’s late arrival on the battlefield during the war. The Peaky Blinders have a meeting in the kitchen, where Tommy, in a state of stress, orders the men to be on their best behaviour. Meanwhile, a refugee from Russia, named Anton Kaledin, makes contact with the Peaky Blinders, offering the code “Constantine” as confirmation for the money-exchange meeting with the young Duchess Tatiana Petrovna (Gaite Jansen). Tommy informs her that Kaledin provided the wrong code name, meaning the man must be killed. Arthur confides in Tommy, not wanting to do the job they must carry out, but Tommy tells him they have no choice, or else Tommy will hang. In the end, Arthur kills the impostor.
Review: Once again this season takes place 2 years after season 2 and Tommy Shelby and Grace Burgess finally get married. The main antagonist this time around is Father Hughes played by Paddy Considine and he is practically the Devil himself. He is a Priest working with Section D (The Economic League) in the British government. Tommy and the family have to try to out maneuver Hughes while also dealing with selling arms to the Russians.
My main memory of this season was sitting on the plane going back to Scotland for a holiday and in one episode there is a massive orgy so I’m sitting on the plane trying to hide my tablet screen so people wouldn’t think I’m a weird old perv. The fact I had my pants off probably didn’t help…
Anyway, Considine is just monstrous as Father Hughes and even kidnaps Tommy’s son Charlie which of course won’t end well… (adopts Bane voice) for Hughes.
Polly’s son Michael is now a fully fledged member of the Peaky Blinders even though she would rather he stayed out of it; he loves the life of it and even has a fling with someone. We find out that he had a history with Hughes and he vows to take him down once and for all.
As always the acting and script are practically flawless with so much going on it can be hard to keep up with the different machinations. Once again Tom Hardy shows up as Alfie and he and Tommy have what is arguably my favourite scene of the entire series (see above). Shelby says that Alfie crossed a line and then Alfie proceeds to shout at him that he is no better and that there is no line for people like them; this is the life they have chosen and there are basically no rules. It’s absolutely riveting stuff.
The finale of this season was devastating and I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it and I couldn’t see how the Shelby’s were going to get out of this latest scrape but knowing Tommy, he always has a plan but we won’t find out until Season 4.
Plot: As Arthur, John, Michael and Polly prepare to hang for their crimes, Tommy’s reprieve comes just in time to save their lives. Following their release, the Shelby family is scattered and estranged from one another. On Christmas of 1925, Ada returns from Boston and visits each of them: John and Esme continue their relationship of sex and arguments, Arthur remains stifled by Linda’s watchful eye, Michael has begun using cocaine to stay on top of the business, and Polly has fallen into an alcohol-fuelled mania, taking prescribed tablets to quell her visions of spirits. Tommy meets with Michael and advises him to dispose of Polly’s medication and help her through her mental illness without them. Each of the Shelbys receives a letter from Luca Changretta, a member of the Sicilian mafia, marking him or her for death in retribution for the murder of Angel and Vincente. Tommy and Ada attempt to convince the others to meet on Boxing Day, believing that they will be easier to pick off if they remain separated. However, when Tommy discovers and kills a mafia agent among his staff, he realises the assassination attempts are due to take place on Christmas Day and tries to get word to the rest of the family. After taking Polly and Ada to the meeting, Michael goes to collect John and Esme, with whom Tommy could not get in contact. A cart pulls up, and John and Michael are riddled by a hail of bullets.
Review: This is easily my favourite season so far with Adrian Brody’s mafia boss coming to Birmingham looking for revenge against the Peaky Blinders for killing one of his family members. This season is packed with action with every episode having some form of shoot-out, fight or generally violent death. It’s edge of your seat stuff filled with tension and excellent performances from the majority of the cast.
The main issue I had with this season was I think Brody was miscast as he isn’t remotely threatening and just comes off as a caricature who has watched The Godfather one too many times. I also can never quite understand the character of Polly who may or may not hate Tommy for putting her through everything she has had to endure; either way she isn’t someone I empathize with in any way.
Cillian Murphy is once again as magnetic as always and any scenes he has with Tom Hardy are always electrifying as Alfie is unpredictable at every turn so we never know what he is going to do.
I love watching Arthur every moment he is on screen; he can be so terrifying and comes across as a timebomb that could go off at any moment and yet there is a pathetic vulnerability to him as well and his bride Linda wants him out of the Blinders for good but fate has other plans.
One of my favourite new characters is the amazingly named Aberama Gold played by Aidan Gillan; at first you aren’t sure what his angle is or whether he can be trusted but Gillan is a great actor and keeps the character interesting.
As always we have family politics but any issues are put aside when the outside threat comes along and they have to work together to take down Brody’s Luca Changretta. The show remains unpredictable and not everyone will live to see season 5 which is why this remains one of the best shows on television.
Overall, Season 4 is the best so far packed with tension, violence and plenty of action; the only letdown is Adrian Brody who isn’t remotely threatening but otherwise it’s sophisticated, well written and has complex characters whose motives are sometimes never explained which is why we keep watching. Now on to Season 5…
Review: The fifth (and most recent) season has Tommy Shelby as a Labour MP having worked his way into politics. I admit I found some of this a little hard to swallow and a few things bothered me about this one.
My biggest gripe with this season was the casting of Jimmy McGavern who is played by Irishman Billy Gleeson and he gives what is easily the worst Scottish accent I have ever heard. What is so frustrating is that the rest of the cast are so good in Peakies that when someone is so laughably terrible that it literally takes you out of the show. The Billy Boys make for great villains so it’s a shame they have to be let down by this terrible performance.
Aside from that season 5 once again takes place two years after the events of season 4 and is as fast moving as ever with Tommy apparently teaming up with fascist leader Oswald Mosely (played to perfection by Sam Claflin) but perhaps not everything is as it seems. Claflin not only looks the part but has his speech patterns absolutely spot on so if you go back and watch Mosely’s real-life speeches from the time it’s like it’s the same guy.
Tommy is normally a true stoic never showing what he is thinking, and he keeps his cards close to his chest however, in this season he is barely hanging on by a thread constantly seeing visions of his late wife. The family is falling apart with Arthur’s wife Linda Shelby getting sick of his antics which pushes Arthur to near breaking point too. He was never exactly sane anyway and this doesn’t help matters at all. Both Arthur and Tommy have rarely been more threatening than they are in this season. The best scene has Tommy quietly speaking with a reporter who thinks he has the upper hand, but Tommy is always prepared giving us one of the best dialogue-driven scenes of the show.
Aside from one scene this is probably the least violent season as it’s more about inner turmoil and political machinations and one scene even has Tommy chatting with Winston Churchill. Michael has really changed as a character and his new wife is pretty much Satanic. I’m looking forward to seeing where their story goes but we have to wait until 2021 before we get the next season.
Overall, Season 5 is let down by one of the worst Scottish accents I have ever heard but aside from that it’s still damn good television with Cillian Murphy as always giving a powerhouse performance as Tommy and a complicated story that ends on a huge cliffhanger that will have fans desperately waiting for season 6.
Here is a deleted scene from season 5 which they should have kept in as it’s an important one between Tommy and Polly.
“The time has almost come, Tommy…”
Here’s an EXCLUSIVE #PeakyBlinders bonus scene from Series 5. pic.twitter.com/ppu0GahJL5
— BBC One (@BBCOne) September 24, 2019
So those are my thoughts on Peaky Blinders so far… it’s one of the most stylish and entertaining shows on television with amazing writing and memorable characters. Any episode that features Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy on screen together is just mesmerizing. It can be shockingly violent at times and the accents may be a bit hard to make out for international audiences but it’s still one of the best shows on TV.