Sunday, November 30, 2014

Peaky Blinders: Peak Television

Thought I'd check in with a review of Peaky Blinders, two seasons in with a BBC production, available in the United States on Netflix, and telling the story of a gang in Birmingham, England, same name as the show, a few years after World War I.

Like most historical dramas, Peaky Blinders on television takes a few liberties with real history, in this case, the main time of the real Peaky Blinders heyday, which was late 19th century and early 20th century.  Also, the sewing of razor blades into caps, so the caps when taken off the head could be used as weapons, may well be apocryphal - at very least, as the source of the Peaky Blinders' name.

But the series is so good, who cares  about perfect history?   From the moment the first scene opens, you're struck by a cinematography that's often breathtaking.  And the characters, story lines, and acting fit right into this high and clearly defined frame.

Cillian Murphy is superb as Tommy Shelby, the Peaky Blinders' leader, even though he's younger than his brother Arthur, deeply flawed and also powerfully played by Paul Anderson.   A young Winston Churchill is also a character, veteran Sam Neill of Jurassic Park plays the head cop bent on taming the gang.   Helen McCrory (Harry Potter) plays Tommy's aunt, who in her own way is at least partially in charge of the Peaky Blinders, and Annabelle Wallis (The Tudors) plays Grace, a major player and love interest of more than one character.

As is the case with many mobster television series, Tommy has his hands full fighting both the law and rival gangs, and enforcing loyalty in his own ranks.   But he does this with a patented mix of intelligence and violence, more or less carefully applied, and given this dancing on the edge, and the less than completely blind fidelity to history, you never know what's going to happen - well, you know that Winston Churchill won't be killed, but that's about it.

Peaky Blinders is reminiscent, in some ways, of Boardwalk Empire on the one hand, because they both take place in the 1920s, and The Black Donnellys on the other, which told the story of an Irish gang family in contemporary Hell's Kitchen in New York City.  But Peaky Blinders has a story and feel and compelling ethnic and proletariate depictions all its own, and I highly recommend it.

deeper history


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