Upon learning that the BBC were to make a series about a Birmingham gang whose primary weapon were their hats, my instinct was to expect a bunch of long-gone Eastenders castaways allying with the iconic Brum to fight Ozzy Osbourne in the town centre. Alas, it seems that someone at the BBC has found out what ‘violence’ is, as this truly is a show run by the BBC: this Big Bad Cilian.
Set in a grey and industrialised middle England, at a time when men, women, children and entire towns have been left torn apart by the goings-on of World War I, this short series is about the activities of the Peaky Blinders. Scattered over Northern England and Scotland at the time, the criminal’s interactions with the police and other rival gangs is romantically stylised, with critics applauding the cinematography that covers this much less spoken of folklore. I’m a sucker for the use of a cigarette and a White Stripes riff, and luckily this is seen throughout with the remarkably talented Cilian Murphy (who I find has a talent at looking both gaunt and good-looking in this) as the hard-edged Thomas Shelby. With him leading a bunch that sport haircuts which are now mimicked by many in my homeland of Essex, they get away with it because they’re running a city as the Mafia of the Midlands opposed to fake-tanning and supporting West Ham.
Over six episodes we engage with a bunch of ex-soldiers turned alcoholic illegal gambling-agency, yet, as it is in the age of the anti-hero, one finds themselves hoping that this criminal syndicate prevails in making a name for itself in a city that falls under the discretion of emotionally crippled law enforcer Chester Campell (Sam Neill). The atmosphere and characterisation is constantly engrossing and, using technical terms, I’d have to agree and say that the key shots are indeed as sharp as Putin’s recent topless horseback album.
This is a very English piece, everything from the accents (which I have to say are very well done) to the melancholy milieu, and I bring this to light as one of the reviews I read slates the series and claims it fails to ‘match American television’. To this I say, a key piece of information must be remembered: this Birmingham is not in the United States. Really, director Otto Bathurst should have taken the approach of ‘Oh I am sorry Cilian, we think Ryan Seacrest fits the role better, because being American is what the actual Peaky Blinders were about.’
In terms of the supporting actors, Paul Anderson effectively plays the pantomime idiot older brother of Thomas (Arthur Shelby) who lives in his shadow. Although he is at times is predictable, I felt he grows into the role over the course of the work. Whereas when talking of Annabelle Wallis (Grace Burgess) I may be subject to a degree of bias as she really is beautiful. In all seriousness, she is a talented actress whose solo singing performances perfectly accompany a montage of Cilian pounding the streets in time to gritty blues (this sounds potentially disastrous but it really isn’t).
It is fairly easy to guess that she and Thomas have a connection from the off and the sex scene is executed brilliantly, seeing me get as excited as my pre-adolescent self was when I first found out that Christina Aguilera made music videos.
This is a charming and endearing series. The budget is not too big but I find that is what helps to give it character which is different to the plethora of American shows currently dominating our conversations. The writer brings out a lot of contemporary British sentiments and, although there was potential for a greater engagement with the IRA, this is a series containing what I find most important: great dialogue, a great soundtrack and a novel plot. It looks like Birmingham may well have found its coolest asset since old Ozzy.
Watch the trailer for Series One of Peaky Blinders here: