Why is no one talking about Peaky Blinders? With badass gangsters, amazing music, and some of the best actors in the industry, Peaky Blinders is the show you didn’t know you wanted.
Maybe British gangster dramas have been considered too niche up to now, but Peaky Blinders more than deserves to join the ranks of the greats alongside Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and The Crown.
Created by Steven Knight (Allied) and starring Cillian Murphy (Inception, Dunkirk) Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter), Tom Hardy (Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max) and a collection of some of the best actors in the U.K., Peaky Blinders is a daring experience — proof that it is possible for a show to have beautiful scenery, incredible acting, art-punk music and history in four amazing seasons.
Peaky Blinders is set in 1920s Birmingham, and based on a real gang of that name that existed at the time. It follows Thomas Shelby, the head of the Shelby clan and a cunning criminal mastermind, in the aftermath of World War I, as he leads the gang to new ambitious heights.
If you aren’t watching yet, you’re seriously missing out. Here’s why you should be watching Peaky Blinders.
Some of the best performances on screen
Peaky Blinders is without a doubt an acting goldmine. Not only does it have a stunning set of actors, which only becomes more impressive with each new season (so far, every single one has introduced very entertaining new characters), but it gives even renowned actors a chance to shine in ways they never have before.
Murphy is a force of nature as Thomas Shelby, with a performance that is both heart-wrenching and awe-inspiring. It’s hard for a show to keep such a unique, badass character at its center and still preserve his mystique, but Peaky Blinders excels at it. Murphy’s demeanor, voice, and even the way he walks, are like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
McCrory and Paul Anderson (who plays Thomas’ older brother, Arthur) also awe you in the few instances that you remember you’re actually watching a show and not living the story. Even though their characters are often unreliable for different reasons, their ability to make you root for them even when they’re going against the main character keeps you glued to the screen. And starting season 2, Tom Hardy’s role, however limited, is probably the best role of his career.
A great example of how to portray history
Maybe it’s because it’s a British show, but Peaky Blinders shows a self-awareness that American television often lacks. As a story set in 1920s Birmingham, and a Netflix/BBC show, it doesn’t shy away from sex or violence — and yet it somehow manages to avoid feeling gratuitous (a pitfall that has put off lots of Game of Thrones viewers).
It also features an array of powerful female characters. McCrory’s Aunt Polly is just as fierce and unstoppable a force as Thomas Shelby himself, but she’s not alone — as seasons progress, she’s joined by an array of women who are strong in their own ways, just as hardened as the men, sometimes even posing a threat to them.
While there are still some issues with the treatment of women, especially when it comes to Thomas’ love interests, Peaky Blinders manages to provide a more varied and three-dimensional cast than we’re used to seeing in gangster dramas. After all, as Knight says, “In any family that I’ve ever come across, the females are dominant. They just are.” It’s nice to see that on screen, for once.
In a genre that was basically built as a form of escapism (Peaky Blinders was styled as a Western), the harsh reality of themes like abortion, PTSD, discrimination — based on race, religion, class, or gender — and their consequences, is very rare. Action-packed shows don’t like to acknowledge the historic flaws in their characters’ judgement, but Peaky Blinders shows us the good and bad, gives us a sense of history, and feels much richer for it.
(It’s also worth noting that, although none of the lead actors are Romani, the show does explore discrimination towards the Roma people, and their language is used by the Shelby clan in many scenes. It’s a start, considering how badly represented Roma culture is on screen.)
Seamless dialogue, music and scenery
Knight’s writing is almost novel-like in the way it weaves a story around the Shelby family and the time they live in. As seasons pass, we see a family rise in power, changing in a myriad of ways as the forces around them try to stop them. It’s difficult to illustrate the passing of time in only four seasons, but Peaky Blinders does an excellent job of it, showing how entire families form and grow, and the complicated web of loyalties that develops around them.
And delivered by the great actors of the show, the dialogue is fascinating to watch. From spitfire arguments to triumphant monologues, the dialogue manages to be both realistic and unexpected. You’ll finish some scenes feeling frustrated in an I-wish-I-could-someday-write-something-this-good kind of way.
But the dialogue is incomplete without the very unique mix of scenery and music. Movies like Marie Antoinette and A Knight’s Tale have already made the risky move of setting a historical period to modern music, but it’s never been done as well as it is in Peaky Blinders.
Somehow, even art-punk music from artists such as David Bowie, The White Stripes and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds feels inseparable from a story set in old Birmingham car factories, railroads and illegal breweries.
Woven into some of the most beautifully filmed scenes, this combination is immersive and breathtaking, even when it’s at its most violent.
And throughout all the family drama, gang wars, and character struggles, you can always walk away knowing that the Shelby family will find a way to win.
All four seasons of Peaky Blinders are available on Netflix. Season 5 is set to be released in 2019.
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