What is it that attracts us so strongly to criminals on TV? The danger that we tend to avoid in real life and that what makes us cringe; that is what we binge on in movies and series. From The Godfather to Dexter, Breaking Bad and Orange is the New Black; as viewers we have a soft spot for the bad guys.
The answer lies probably in some form of escapism; to be swept away to an unknown world where everything is dangerous and exciting. Where everything is the exact opposite of your daily routine. A place where violence, sex and drugs exist in abundance and where the underdog has the power.
All these elements and more are evidently present in BBC series Peaky Blinders. This drama series about an Irish gang in 1920’s Birmingham with a lead role for Cillian Murphy as matriarch Thomas Shelby, is running its third season already and can be seen every Thursday at 21:00 on BBC2.
Raw, grim, ruthless and brutal; those are words to perfectly describe Peaky Blinders. These are not the sophisticated twenties that are portrayed in Downton Abbey. No, these are the real roaring twenties of the street. What makes me happy as a semi-historian is that every detail in this series is fitting with the period; from the costumes to the haircuts, the decor and the furnishing. Clearly a strong team is behind all this, which makes for a very realistic portrayal.
This is the type of series that you must watch intently without missing an episode. Because a lot is happening, it’s happening fast and at times the dialogues are almost incomprehensible. The members of the Peaky Blinders at first glance look like hardcore criminals without any sentiment. But a closer look shows that every character has a particular weakness. Like the always drunken Arthur who moves like a time bomb through the story, or older sister Polly who carries a dark past with her. Also there are some interesting guest roles, like Tom Hardy as a Jewish mob boss.
Tommy is gradually leaving. I’m getting Cillian back” his wife will tell him.
The obvious star of the show though is Cillian Murphy who in the role of Thomas Shelby demonstrates some of his best acting ever. In a recent interview Cillian confessed that playing Shelby is physically and mentally so challenging that it almost breaks him. He doesn’t just play Tommy; he becomes Tommy. The short shaved hair, the lower voice and his indestructible appearance are a world apart from the soft, vulnerable and introvert man that Murphy usually portrays and which is much closer to his own self. This metamorphosis goes so far that when Murphy gets back home after filming another set of episodes, it takes him a week to become himself again. “Tommy is gradually leaving. I’m getting Cillian back” his wife will tell him.
The strong story, quality filming and decor is backed up by a great soundtrack. The interaction of the raw rock music by among others Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and The Kills together with the dingy shots of filthy back alleys of an industrial England gives the series even more impact. When Thomas Shelby walks through a factory in slow motion surrounded by smoke, he demands a stage and deserves respect. This is his catwalk.
As happens often with crime themes, you soon start to feel a bond with the Blinders. ‘So what’ they blow up a few buildings, or if they shoot rival gang members, bribe the police and earn their money by questionable means. The Shelby’s soon become your family, you start to get attached and well, then you tend to turn a blind eye.
In the third season we see Tommy toughen up even more; after his newlywed wife gets murdered he is unstoppable. Revenge is his and every one in his path will soon regret being there. This also results in an estrangement from his own family when he orders actions so brutal even his brothers think go too far. On the other hand he is also a father now and that brings out a soft and caring side in him.
This series keeps developing and growing, and luckily the BBC just announced that two further seasons will be made. The Shelby’s story is not finished yet. There is still enough to be reckoned with.
Originally published on www.kimsomberg.nl on May 27th 2016
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