Wow. Nothing happens here for ages and then suddenly two new big-uns in one week. First we had the library opening, but all the other bloggers in town were writing about that so I thought I’d zoom in on Peaky Blinders, the new five-part prime-time offering from the BBC.
Weird name huh? But apparently the Peaky Blinders were a real gang and despite sounding like something made up by Stewie from Family Guy, it has a bad-ass origin; members used to sew razor blades into the peaks of their caps to give an extra I-love-you whenever they head-butted someone. Nice.
The set-up works thus: Tom Shelby (played by Batman/ Inception star and Nolan bros go-to man Cillian Murphy) is a member of crime family and Birmingham uber-gang the titular Peaky Blinders, who ran Small Heath and the surrounding neighbourhoods from the 1880s onwards. They work protection rackets, gambling operations and maybe the odd IRA gun run. But with a new Chief Inspector in town (Sam Neill) planting undercover agents, an expected communist revolution and even Churchill taking an interest in proceedings, how long will our boy’s luck last?
I couldn’t help but be reminded of Boardwalk Empire watching tonight’s opener; the sepia tones, the ruthlessness even within the family, but mostly because the character of Tom Shelby is so much like Boardwalk’s Jimmy Darmody. Seriously, they’re both scions of crime families, both World War 1 heroes, both struggling to balance their ruthless tendencies with an inconvenient streak of humanity. And they both have utterly disastrous haircuts. Except the ‘dos sported by antihero Murphy and horny Bolshevik Iddo Goldberg make Jimmy’s slicked back undercut look positively sophisticated. Nobody smiles in this programme (they’re probably depressed about their haircuts.) Things really were bad in Brum back then.
But even that’s not an excuse, as the episode showed there was an Italian contingent in Birmingham at the time. Were none of them master barbers who could help these two handsome men out? It was becoming quite distracting after half an hour. Think soggy mop draped on brow.
Apart from that, it did start to grip by the end. Plots and subplots are beginning to unfold, there’s a little bit o’ sex and post war feminism going on. It’s highly stylised with slow motion character introductions, blast furnaces reflecting into the canals, lots of violence and most noticeably the use of modern music. This is a Birmingham that feels like the Wild West (Midlands) – the opening shot was even Cillian Murphy sauntering on a horse, terrifying all the Brummies into their back-to-backs for Christ’s sake. I think most of it has been filmed up North, but some scenes did take place at The Black Country Museum.
But the best scene for me had to be Sam Neill’s introduction to Birmingham’s nightlife. Glassing, vomiting, shagging in the street, drunken trolls and prodigious use of the word ‘Fock!’ (ah, Midlands swearing…) it was all there. He must’ve been riding down Broad Street.
Still, it’s intriguing if nothing else and I’m quite proud of Brum that it can inspire such an idiosyncratic/ potentially really interesting drama. God knows, since Crossroads, we’re owed a more decent televisual legacy. And no, Doctors doesn’t count.
Have you seen Peaky Blinders? What do you think so far?