The third series of Peaky Blinders builds strong structures upon its equally strong foundations, a near perfect creation that is only set to get better.
The gruff tones of Brummie antihero Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) and those infamous haircuts and caps have once again graced our television screens. As Tommy and his family rise to new heights in business and in family life, so too does this dizzying series as it insurmountably raises the bar for all BBC dramas – or all dramas, period.
Attracting unwanted attention from the government, ‘our’ Tommy seems to be consistently caught between a very hard rock and a very hard place. In his work life, he must adhere to the demands of the Economic League, stealing weaponry to aid the fight against the Bolsheviks in the midst of the Russian revolution, all while maintaining a firm hold on the city of London and over the defeated Italians. At home, he must mediate between his alienated and unruly relatives, and protect his new wife and child.
The complexities of the plot are undeniable, yet also unavoidable. Tommy’s problems grow in relation to his mounting power as the leader of the Shelby Company. He is a man with power but no control over it, manipulated by the powerful people around him, and struggling against the power he now wields.
No sign of Tom Hardy yet, but newcomer Paddy Considine as shrewd priest Father John Hughes has been, without doubt, the greatest addition to the series so far. Tommy has faced bad men who do bad things, and he reaches new levels of depravity in order to climb out of the dirt. Hughes represents the antithesis of Tommy; his immorality is an affront to all that Tommy respects, and the strong sense of morals in which he takes pride. Tommy does bad things because he has to, and is caught in a perpetual ‘catch-22’ that Hughes controls. Hughes represents the men with power who do bad things, simply because they can.
We are seeing a world of parallels within this series, as Tommy struggles to control his emotions with regards to his detestation for the morally corrupt man of cloth, at the unexpected death of his wife and his want for justice, and now the news that his messed up brother is going to have the family that he has just lost. The air of composed contempt with which we had grown accustom to with Tommy has begun to fragment. In Hughes’ own words, some devil certainly gets into him, culminating in an intoxicating scene, where we first witness his raw rage and vulnerability, as he faces the man ultimately responsible for Grace’s fate. We see Murphy exploring the depths of Tommy’s soul and the conscious of a man completely at war with himself, so much so that we almost drown in the adrenaline ourselves as viewers. He truly lives by the mantra that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, yet at this juncture, the moral high ground seemingly transfers when Arthur (Paul Anderson), Tommy’s mad dog, shows the justice that Tommy cannot by pulling the trigger. Tommy is the man now running from his problems, and passing the blame from a cursed necklace to a poisonous priest; the tables have certainly begun to turn.
The excitement surrounding the show also rests in the knowledge that these characters will be allowed to continue to grow unmolested. Both the creator and cast are in this for the long haul, committed to seeing this series through to its completion at the beginning of WWII. We can look ahead to the eventualities that this new fracture may cause within upcoming seasons, with my own prediction being that of a civil war within the Shelby clan. The love that was once their greatest strength has now become their weakness, and despite the less than relatable circumstances, the show remains, at its heart, about a dysfunctional family with relationships that we can all identify with.
These contrasts continue into the physical appearance of its cast, which the show ruthlessly takes advantage of. The look of Cillian Murphy was definitely employed by design, as it blurs the lines between good and evil, the unattractiveness of criminality hidden behind a beautiful face. Yet notably this season, Arthur’s slender figure seems to defy his brash and loud exterior, revealing the fragile human body to which he has been stripped back. Taking advantage of the best of the Arctic Monkeys is just the icing on the cake.
For all its harshness and grittiness, there is no denying that Peaky Blinders is beautiful. The characters are beautiful in their complexity and their honesty, and it feels almost cinematic in scope and scale. Every member of the cast is worth his or her salt tenfold and although Tommy may be the protagonist, it is very much a family affair, in a world that I intend to return to for as long as I can.
Peaky Blinders continues on BBC2 on Thursdays at 9pm.