Take the atmosphere of Boardwalk Empire, the gritty brutality of Gangs of New York and the dialogue of Downton Abbey – and you’ve Peaky Blinders.
This is the prime time to start watching this show. With season two just arriving in the United States via Netflix this November, Blinders is available in the same full season binge-worthy format that House of Cards and Orange is the New Black lovers will be thankful for. And with Tom Hardy (Bane in The Dark Knight Rises) joining lead Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow in Batman Begins) in season 2, the show has A-list star power and talent.
We’re talking about Bane and Scarecrow in a British Gangster show together. I don’t think any further convincing should really be necessary.
But in case you’re one of those weirdos who does need a little more convincing, there are plenty more reasons that Peaky Blinders is a show worth bingeing on.
You may be thinking, “That’s a pretty dumb name for a show about gangsters,” but you would be wrong. ‘Peaky’ refers to the peaks of the trendy hats worn by members of the gang, while ‘Blinders’ is a nod to the razor blades sewn into the brim – useful to help slice at your enemies’ eyes when in a scrap.
Once you see the raw damage the ‘blinders’ cause, it won’t seem like such a stupid name. But it’s not the graphic violence or the gore that sets Netflix’s Peaky Blinders apart from other hit series.
It’s the depth that sets it apart.
Unique characters, the historical context and the clever symbolism brings this crime drama to life.
Set in post-WWI Birmingham, England – the story follows the rise of the Shelby crime family led by the cold and calculating Thomas “Tommy” Shelby, portrayed by Irish actor Cillian Murphy (widely known as The Scarecrow from Batman Begins).
Murphy brings an effortlessly cool nature to Tommy’s character, one that makes him seem like he’s always in control—even when he’s losing it. Calm, collected and clawing his way to the top, Tommy’s endgame is to have a business that’s (80%) legal.
In addition to Tommy, the family includes the brash (and often unstable) Arthur Shelby – the gang’s very own ‘mad dog’ and Tommy’s older brother. We also meet Polly, the boys’ Aunt and one of the most tragically interesting characters on the show.
She not only fills the void left by the Shelby’s mother, but her commanding presence and no-nonsense attitude is stifled only by Tommy’s authority, making her one of the most badass female characters on Television today.
Of course, what would a crime show be without the police to play cat and mouse? Special Inspector Campbell, played by Sam Neil (or as he will always be known to me, Dr. Grant from Jurassic Park), is easily the most hated character on the show. Not because Neil’s performance isn’t stellar—quite the contrary—but because of his character’s unique sensibilities.
An Irishman who sides with England over his native land is already at odds, but it’s exacerbated by his task to root out the IRA in Belfast and to eliminate them by whatever means necessary. While you would think his loyalty to England would gain him respect with his adopted country, his time spent serving the crown in Belfast meant he missed any and all active duty in Europe, earning the disdain of the Shelby gang, the Birmingham Police Force and even Winston Churchill himself.
As the show progresses – the Blinders tangle with additional historical entities like The Irish Republican Army, the English Communist Party and British Secret Intelligence (MI6) — none of which are looking to be allies with them.
These additional factions do more than just provide story lines and plot twists – they help provide context for the tumultuous changes that the world was going through after the Great War. These historical entities and factions help Blinders address some heavier topics—notably PTSD and the difficulty soldiers experience acclimating back into a peacetime environment before the condition was fully defined.
As the first fully industrial and mechanized war that consisted of chemical and trench warfare (and trenches), this war was terrifying. Tommy and his boys were trench diggers themselves, tasked with digging far under enemy lines and sometimes conducting subterranean combat, in the dark, with their bare hands.
Despite their decorations and medals, coming home is no easy task. Some become addicted to drugs. Some become revolutionaries. Some just snap.
But it’s the coming to terms with real human flaws and struggles that makes the characters even more relatable.
The symbolism of Blinders finds root in the atmosphere of the show itself. The heavy tones of gritty, working class labor in the early 20th century give way to the gilded lawlessness of the roaring 20′. Not to mention, it perfectly displays both sides to a life in crime.
Even the show’s score adds to the collective cool and deeper meanings of Blinders. The intro song, “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, is played over a different scene each time, usually involving Tommy walking through the streets of his beloved Birmingham.
Season one is a beyond solid watch, and Season two expands this world further, following the Shelby family’s expansion to the Derby racetracks up north and to the London nightclubs down south. But more importantly, it introduces new gangs and new characters, notably Alfie Solomons – head of the Jewish mob in London played by Tom Hardy, who brings a whole new level of fear to the role.
If you’re finding yourself suffering from the HBO doldrums, the lack of Boardwalk Empire or Sopranos-type shows, or just the Sunday void, Peaky Blinders is your salvation. Both seasons are now available at a Netflix near you.
(Featured image courtesy of mirror.co.uk and the BBC)