TV Review: Peaky Blinders

As the weather starts to turn and the nights start to draw in, the TV channels start trumpeting their new series to while away cold dark evenings or dreary wet weekends. BBC Two's offering is Peaky Blinders, named after a criminal gang who hid razor blades in the peaks of their flat caps, which is set in Birmingham in 1919 and stars Cillian Murphy as ex-soldier and local petty criminal Tommy Shelby who's bent on making a name for himself after coming across an illegal shipment of guns, amidst a backdrop of the aftermath of war and rising communist tensions.

First thought: it looks gorgeous. The set design is absolutely perfect, beautifull conveying the grime and dirtiness that's needed for a show like this. I'm also quite liking the use of modern music as a juxtaposition with the period styling - it adds a really interesting edge to proceedings and gives a very stronge sense of coolness, which I think helps in building the audiences' relationships with the characters; whilst you might not necessarily like or sympathise with them, you do find yourself engaging with them very strongly. Second thought: there are an awful lot of people in this whose attempts at Brummie accents just make them sound Scouse (although a lot of it was shot in Liverpool so I'm guessing a couple of the extras were locals) or Mancunian.

It also feels very underplayed - not in a way that suggests the actors aren't keen on their parts, but more that there's no need to ham it up and overact. Everything is very subtle, especially Cillian Murphy's quiet performance as Tommy which gives him a very unsettling sense of being someone who's dangerous to know, yet strangely admirable in the way he goes about trying to make a life of sorts for himself after the horror of the Great War. I particularly liked the fact that we come into the series with Tommy already established as a middling gang member who spots his opportunity to work his way up. It would have been incredibly easy to play this as an 'origins' story - and in a way it still is - but starting in the middle works well as you feel like the world you're going into really exists. Helen McCrory is also fantastic as Aunt Polly, the tough-as-nails matriarch who serves as the voice of reason amongst the madness of the gangs' activity, and I'm looking forward to more of Sam Neill as Belfast policeman Chester Campbell, who's hot on the trail of the missing shipment and the Shelby family.

At this point I should specify that I have not seen Boardwalk Empire (don't worry, it's on my list) so I can't compare it to that, but when I do I'll include something about this in the review. But from what I've heard and from watching this they seem very different - there's no glamour in Peaky Blinders, for a start. Overall though it was a great opening episode, with lots of drama, great characters and beautifully shot. I can't wait to find out what happens next and will definitely be tuning in again this week.

You can watch the first episode of Peaky Blinders on BBC iPlayer, and new episodes are on every Thursday night at 9 PM on BBC Two.

Did you watch Peaky Blinders? What did you think of it? And what are your favourite period/crime dramas? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!

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  1. I didn't even know this was a show! Cillian Murphy is a great actor, too. I was discussing with my other half today that the UK doesn't really have anywhere near the same reputation for TV drama as the US. It's a shame because I bet there are some gems and maybe this might be one of them :) x

  2. Hi Cat, thanks for your comment!

    Cillian Murphy is great I agree, especially in these sorts of slightly unsettling but fairly subtle parts (I'm thinking back to Red Eye and Batman Begins in particular, both of which he was excellent in). That's interesting about US drama, I don't know if it's just because it's going through a purple patch at the moment but I think the UK has always done more costume drama-type things, whereas Peaky Blinders feels much more modern. I think also part of the issue is it's going to be a slow burner rather than more immediate which a lot of the US shows seem to offer, especially early on. But we'll see...