Peaky Blinders

Photograph: BBC
Rating 9.2
Streamers BBC iPlayer, Netflix
Seasons 5
Episodes 36 x 60 mins

You are hereby instructed to commence a binge (re)watching, by order of the Peaky Blinders.

There are few shows as immersive and atmospheric as this one – you hear that iconic gong and the words “red right hand” and you know you’re about to sink into the smoky streets of Birmingham, where flat cap-wearing thugs roam and rule. This is 1919, the country has just come out of a brutal war and is ripe for social upheaval and lawlessness. The perfect setting for the Shelby family to come into their own – they’re a close-knit crime family of Romany background, and led by their fearless leader Tommy (Cillian Murphy), they’re out to get power and money, no matter the cost.

There’s every level of criminality on display here, from murder to police corruption, family betrayal to political meddling, as the Shelby family battle the authorities and rival mobsters to retain their power and status. And it is seriously gripping. The storylines come thick and fast, and the show’s producers love leaving us on a cliff-hanger so shocking that we rush to the remote to select the next episode. But it’s not just the plot that keeps us wanting more – Peaky Blinder’s characters are brilliant. There’s Tommy, the smart and organised one who was chosen above his violent and unpredictable brother Arthur to be leader, but who suffers with PTSD because of the war. They’ve got two little brothers in John and Finn, and a witty and sharp sister in Ada. Their parents aren’t around, but their effortlessly cool Aunt Polly – played by the incredible Helen McCrory – acts as the matriarch. Throughout the seasons, other equally compelling characters come and go, but this core family unit are hard to take your eyes off.

Especially because the whole thing is so gorgeous to look at. No expense has been spared in terms of cinematic effects, with slow-motion walking scenes amongst a background of fiery welding chucked in at every opportunity. And paired with the distinctively accented music that peppers the show, this really does feel more like a movie masterpiece, rather than a prime-time drama.

In fact, The Guardian’s David Renshaw says “Peaky Blinders is laudable for its ambition alone, all too rare in primetime drama. The pace, too, is breathtaking. While this occasionally leads to some clunky exposition, the powerful performances excuse everything.” Reviews for the series’ five seasons have varied slightly, but not enough to prevent the mass of fans from coming back for more of what Rebecca Nicholson, also from The Guardian, calls a “bombastic and showy and recklessly fun” show. And it sounds like The Independent’s Ed Power would agree, with him calling the show “slick, a bit superficial and absolutely gripping,” whilst The Telegraph’s Michael Hogan says it “gets better with each passing series.”  

First shown September 2013.

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