The BBC has done it again! At least, that's what many of the critics are saying about the newly popular show Peaky Blinders. If the thought of British mobsters circa 1919 excites you, then you better buckle up because it's going to be a bumpy ride (bareback on a racehorse because that's just how protagonist Thomas Shelby does it.) Peaky Blinders centers around the Shelbys, a gangster family living in the foggy industrial city of Birmingham, England. The family makes their money through the black market and illegal bookmaking, the underground business of betting on sports such as horse racing or boxing. The gang has an organized hierarchy headed by the former World War I soldier Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) and while he was away at war, the Jezebel-esque Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory). Peaky Blinders is named after the actual historic gang of Birmingham, the "Peaky Blinders" who were known for sewing razor blades on the peaks of their caps which they used as weapons to blind their adversaries.
There are a number of reasons the show has seen so much publicity as of late. Netflix has two seasons of the Peaky Blinders, and each season has six hour-long episodes, making it easy to justify spending an entire weekend binge-watching the show. And while it may be compared to other popular British shows such as Downton Abbey or Sherlock, Peaky Blinders truly stands apart. It is not set in London, but Birmingham, which means a change of scene, accent, and culture. Also, the story is told from the criminal's perspective, a unique twist that adds factor of suspense. Similarly, the main antagonist is Chief Inspector Chester Campbell, played by Sam Neill, a detective in the Royal Irish Constabulary sent by Winston Churchill to clean up the city of the Irish Republican Army, gangs, and common criminals.
Yet this is no typical cops and robbers show. Peaky Blinders is filled with complicated relationships, manipulations, nasty schemes, under-the-counter bribery, and of course, a heavy amount of violence and sex. The onscreen sexual and violent content arguably does not detract from the story overall, however it does add some negative elements. Therefore, viewers be warned. Interestingly enough, many scenes are paired with fairly modern alternative rock bands including Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, The White Stripes, and Jack White. This element sets it apart from another post-Victorian era show, Downton Abbey, thus making it a more "manly drama."
In addition to the soundtrack, the cinematography is one of the best elements of the show—it simply looks amazing. Production design that is well-done makes storytelling all too easy. Steven Knight, writer for the Peaky Blinders is quite the visionary, enlivening old cliches and reminding viewers why they loved them in the first place. Scenes like the lovely bartender Grace singing a beautiful tune to pacify and silence fighting men, or Tommy riding cockily through town atop his steed, give the series an eerie feeling that makes it feel less like historical fiction and more like a dream. Above all, the cinematography makes Birmingham, England all the more interesting. As Jane Austen once wrote, "One has not great hopes from Birmingham. I always say there is something direful in the sound..." Though the gangsters came a little after her time, I believe the show illuminates on Austen’s description of the dark side of Birmingham.
If this plot and production design is not enough to convince you, maybe a slew of British jargon, Sam Neill with a bowler hat and mustache, and Cillian Murphy with a Macklemore haircut will. With the stacked cast and unpredictable plot, Peaky Blinders certainly has great potential in the seasons to come. I dare you not to binge watch it on Netflix.