Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) and his gang of Birmingham gypsies, known as the Peaky Blinders, have returned for a second season. Set roughly two years after the events of the first season the Peaky Blinders now want to expand their operation to London and the season depicts the complications that arise from this venture.
Peaky Blinders sets itself apart from other crime dramas through it’s highly stylized cinematography and the use of modern day music over classic 1920’s tunes. The slow-motion shots of industrial Birmingham bring the gritty world to life and the soundtrack moves the action along at a steady pace. It also has the advantage of having a very deep context to explore; it is a melting pot of Irish republicanism, mass industrial strikes and the rise of Bolshevism. It’s implicit but history buffs will surely appreciate it. This remains present in season two but the shift to London helps expand the storyline and the world of Peaky Blinders.
Season two begins with one of the first season’s main characters, Freddy Thorne’s (Iddo Goldberg) funeral-who has succumb to disease. From here we learn of Tommy’s plan to expand to London through participating in a war between Italian gangster Darby Santini (Noah Taylor) and Jewish ‘baker’ and racetrack owner Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) with the Peaky Blinders aligning themselves with Solomons. Both of these new characters give solid performances but Hardy is truly worthy of praise. Despite being in only two scenes in three episodes Hardy causes them to drip with tension. Hardy is a complete show-stealer channelling his previous unpredictability and villainy from roles such as Bane in the Dark Knight Rises and in Bronson. This is one of Hardy’s best performances to date.
Cillian Murphy again gives a great performance as Thomas Shelby. He is clever, ambitious and brutal when he needs to be but Murphy easily conveys Tommy’s good nature and damaged psyche from the First World War. From the first episode we see that Tommy has bitten off more than he can chew. When he and his two brothers, Arthur (Paul Anderson) and John (Joe Cole) go on ‘holiday’ to London and smash up Santini’s nightclub, the Italian gang track Tommy back to Birmingham and give him a savage beating only being saved from death by a police officer intervening. This is the weakest we have seen Tommy and he is literally staring death in the face. Tommy allies himself with Solomons but he only pretended to serve Billy Kimber, in Season one, before taking over his business so will the same happen in season two? Solomons is savvier, so Tommy will have to act smarter to usurp him. We also, perhaps, get closure on Tommy and Grace’s (Annabelle Wallis) storyline. She moved to the U.S.A and sends Tommy a letter which he burns without reading- their relationship seems to be dead further emphasised by his flirting with May Fitz-Carleton (Charlotte Riley) , a wealthy horse owner, at the end of episode three.
Another main character component of this season is Arthur’s mental deterioration. Paul Anderson gives a great physical and emotional performance-being the most brutal and most vulnerable character simultaneously. After failing to commit suicide in season one, he has been put on medication to calm him down. Arthur is unhinged and I doubt whether he will make it to the end of the season. This violent mental state culminates with the killing of a young boy in the Peaky Blinders boxing ring. His introduction to cocaine has settled him for the time being but if the show stays true to the gangster genre, a hot head like Arthur may not survive.
The most interesting character development mid-way through the second seasons is that of Polly, the brothers aunt, second in command of the Peaky Blinders. In season one Polly was commanding, violent, aggressive but always smart. Towards the end of the season she revealed her two children were taken away when they were babies. In season two her emotions destroyed her composure, even threatening Tommy with a revolver if he did not reveal the location of her surviving child. She is eventually reunited with her son Michael (Finn Cole) who also gets his first taste of Shelby life when an assassination attempt occurs at a horse auction on Tommy. While Michael is in Polly’s life this now makes her vulnerable.
Sam Neil’s Northern Irish, bible quoting, Major Campbell is as enjoyable as ever. It’s amusing to see his paranoia of being mocked in the Birmingham police force and embarrassment of being seemingly the only man his age that didn’t fight in the Great War. His desire to arrest and execute Tommy is still burning but Tommy’s distinguished war record puts a hold in his plans thanks to Winston Churchill’s (Richard McCabe) intervention.
The character development and story is excellent for the most part but season two does have some problems. The Character of Santini is really only a one-note caricature of a crime lord and has no redeeming qualities, Alfie Solomons would make a much better main antagonist but as this is only the half-way point he very well may become the primary villain. Another complaint is that Tommy’s sister Ada (Sophie Rundle) has not been given much of an arc this season and seems though she will just be a target for Santini’s men.
Even from the Mid-point of the season, Peaky Blinders has evolved and improved as a show. The acting, for the most part, is flawless and the character development and storylines are engaging. Tom Hardy’s performance adds much needed tension to the show and it’s interesting where the London gang war will be heading in the weeks to come.
Peaky Blinders is broadcast on BBC Two on Thursdays at 9:00pm.