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05th May 2016

This is why ‘Peaky Blinders’ should be your next great binge-watch

Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy head up an addictive drama.

The Peaky Blinders are back.

The epic British crime drama has returned to BBC2 for a third series – and as one cast member put it, “it’s good as f**k”.

For anyone who caught the first two series of the gritty period drama we don’t need to preach. You know it’s mustard.

But if you have yet to meet the ruthless Thomas Shelby and his gangland family as they fight, cheat, steal and kill their way up the underworld rungs of 1920s Birmingham and beyond, then pull up a chair.

There are some very good reasons why Peaky Blinders needs to be right at the top of your boxset list.

The history

Forget everything you know about British period drama. Forget Downton Abbey, Heartbeat or any of the other turgid sh*te you watch on a Sunday evening.

Peaky Blinders is a million miles from this. In fact it’s closer to the likes of US series Boardwalk Empire or even Martin Scorsese’s movie, Gangs Of New York. It’s earned a cult following because of it – not just here, but in 160 countries including America, where it has earned serious reviews after airing on Netflix.

Part of its visceral charm is that it’s rooted deep in British history. It captures a moment after the First World War when men returned from the Trenches jaded and damaged. Times were hard, jobs were scarce, and grinding poverty kept the wolf very much at the door.

This period of desperation and lawlessness bred criminality, and gangs like the Shelby Family depicted in Peaky Blinders took full advantage. The story taps into the real-life history of a Birmingham street gang of the same name, mythologised as slashing rivals’ faces with razor blades sewn into the peaks of their flat caps.

The plot

Sex, violence and gangs – it’s a winning formula in anyone’s books. Yet it’s so easy for the well-worn gangster genre stuff to stray into staid and formulaic territory.

But Peaky Blinders has instead woven an explosive narrative of gangs, family, love and deceit, and created something epic. Its success and subsequent cult following is down to the gripping plot written by Stephen Knight and the breathless, slick, and sharp six-episode nature of both seasons so far.

Series 3 of #PeakyBlinders is coming… *Visit the @peakyblindersofficial profile for the full message*

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The Peaky Blinders are a ruthless and fiercely ambitious street gang led by the dangerous Thomas Shelby (played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy) intent on making it big in the Birmingham underworld.

In the first series, Tommy is hell-bent on monopolising the book-making market and make his gambling business legitimate by any means possible. The puritanical Northern Irish policeman Major Chester Campbell (Sam Neill) is sent to stop the Peaky Blinders as they battle fellow gangster Billy Kimber and threaten to sell stolen guns to the IRA.

Business is booming in the second series, and the Shelby family are expanding their empire into London. But Tommy’s aspirations of dominating the South are met with fierce and violent resistance by big city gangsters and it all comes to a head at the 1922 Epsom Derby.

Now with series three here, Tommy has designs of taking the “business” international at the risk of his gang and his family.

The cast

Cillian Murphy is the bedrock of the show. Cold, calculated and bloodthirsty, he is every inch the dead-eyed gangster sociopath. Sam Neill plays such a towering performance as the steely Northern Irish lawman Campbell that you’ll forget he ever starred in Jurassic Park.

He’s a formidable nemesis to Shelby, and Neill plays the character with conviction and intensity. You shit yourself every time he starts throwing his weight around and dishing out sinister threats in that harsh Belfast brogue.

But Campbell is just the start of menacing and Machiavellian characters in Peaky Blinders.

Tom Hardy plays Jewish Gangster Alfie Solomons who runs a Camden Town gang making illegal rum.

He is violent, charismatic and mercurial in a way that only Hardy can embody. It’s a good job this hooch-brewing psychopath is sort of on side with Tommy.

One man who is not is Italian gangster Darby Sabini, played impressively by Game Of Thrones star Noah Taylor. Unpredictable, violent and with a searing temper, he is another gangland figure that Tommy finds himself at war with.

But Peaky Blinders might just have saved the best ‘til last with Tommy’s latest rival in series three.

Paddy Considine will play the priest Fr John Hughes whose character was first described as “the representative of a force beyond anything Tommy has previously encountered.”


The dialogue

If you’re going to make a show about gangsters, you’d better make damn sure the dialogue can stand up to the strong characters. And not in a Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, jaunty Cockney kind of way.

But Peaky Blinders really delivers on this front. It’s chicken and egg though. We’re not sure if it’s the cast, which also include the likes of Helen McCrory as the matriarchal Aunt Poll, who squeeze every last bit of drama from the script, or whether the dialogue is just that slick.

Knight describes the Peaky Blinders’ dialogue as “a mix of gibberish and poetry” – allowing the actors the freedom to go heavy on the rhetoric, while keeping elements of the poetic in their speech (so it sounds all natural and real and that).


The cinematography

They say looks aren’t everything. But they sure as hell go a long way. Peaky Blinders has gone all out in the aesthetics department to make the show as visually stunning as possible. It’s played out against a gritty backdrop of satanic chimneys belching smoke, hellish foundries aflame and cobbles awash with industrial grime, all captured like a dystopian M&S food advert.


The slick-tailored suits and fashion, striking colour palettes and cleverly-framed shots all feed into it too. It’s underscored by a sensational soundtrack featuring the likes of Alex Turner, PJ Harvey and Nick Cave that gives it verve and swagger.

The contemporary music makes it feel current and forges yet more unconscious links between the poverty, corruption and violence of the 1920s and Britain right now.

To say we like this show is an understatement. There’s a fourth series already commissioned and even talk of turned it into a big screen picture. But as the third series kicks off you’ve got ample time to binge your way through the 12 preceding episodes. You won’t regret it.