This BBC television drama series starring the amazing Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby, the leader of the Peaky Blinders gang, is Britain’s answer to “Boardwalk Empire”. Netflix released the first six episodes comprising Season One this past September and the next six of Season Two in November. Taking place immediately after the First World War, in Birmingham, England, the story focuses on making one’s way in the world of brutal street rivalries and competition for money through bars, gambling, and horse racing.
But this series is more family saga than criminal thriller, although it is that too. In the early 20th century, the IRA is beginning to rise up and the minorities (Italians, Jews, Irish, and Gypsies) are fighting fiercely for the territory no one else wants. The Shelby family is led by the cunning Tommy who understands that alliances with other minorities will give them greater strength and power. Although the promise of alliance and cooperation are brilliantly conceived, the strategies inevitably have unexpected twists due to sibling rivalry, the mistrust of the other gangs, and the greed and corruption of the police and intelligence agencies (under the supervision of the malevolent Campbell, gloriously played by Sam Neill).
The plot is brilliantly realized and meticulously detailed, character development is insightful and the acting is engrossing. Creation of the world of England on the brink of revolution by the IRA, filled with criticism of the privileged, and the difficulties of finding justice are vivid and unsparing. Crime is not glamorous and has high stakes and terrible consequences for family and friends alike. No one can be trusted. The deprivation of the slums is inescapable,…or almost. Injustice is viewed in all of its ugliness.
The odd name “Peaky Blinders” derives from the practice of sewing razor blades into the peaks of their caps. The first two episodes take patience as the plot moves very slowly and deliberately, to set up each character and some discipline in editing seems necessary to improve the pacing.
Last but not least, there are the strong, tough, and cunning women of the Shelby family and of Grace, whom Tommy becomes involved with. Each is broken and wounded in ways more visible and understandable by the audience than their male cohort. All that is absent from their participation in the Peaky Blinders is the razor-brimmed cap. Moreover, some of the more interesting character development in this series is the disruption women created as they assumed roles in post-war society that some of the men resented.
I can’t wait to see Season Three!