It has been called the British answer to Boardwalk Empire, but other than a character trying to rise through society with a generous helping of crime and corruption in a post WW1 era, the two shows are quite different.
Peaky Blinders takes you to an unexplored time and place — one that is both inviting and unnerving. It’s about time the show hits Indian television. If not, we will have to turn to the ever-loyal TV-loving internet to help us find a way to download or stream this gangster drama.
The BBC Two show has been inspired by true events and people, just like Boardwalk Empire tells the story of the rogue Shelby family from Birmingham in the 1920s. Unlike the politically influential Thompsons in Boardwalk Empire, the Shelby family is closer to the ground. They call themselves the “Peaky Blinders” because of the razors they hide in their flat caps, used often blind or injure those who dare cross them.
At the centre of the show is the intense and magnetic anti-hero Thomas Shelby, played by the very talented Cillian Murphy. The family runs a bookmaking business, a bar called The Garrison, and everything else on the tough streets of industrial Birmingham. The brothers Tommy, Arthur and John Shelby are joined by Ada, their rebellious sister who falls in love with a Communist on the run, and more importantly, Polly. Aunt Polly ran the business when the boys were away at war. She calls the shots in the family and in matters of the heart. Helen McCrory as Polly is as compelling a presence as Murphy’s Tommy, and the two create a solid foundation on which the rest of the impeccable cast stands.
But back to the story. Changed by war, Tommy Shelby realises that life is short and unpredictable. He takes every opportunity he can find to make it big and to replace the big guys running racecourses all over England. While Birmingham is his home turf, it turns into a battlefield when his men find a consignment of guns and ammunition meant for Libya. It invites trouble and brings with it Tommy’s nemesis. Police Chief CI Campbell, convincingly played by Sam Neill, has been transferred to Birmingham from Belfast to clean up the streets by the then Minister of War and Air, Winston Churchill. The political landscape of England is volatile with the threat of a Communist uprising as a result of a still fresh Bolshevik revolution on the one side and the Irish Revolutionary Army on the other. Campbell brings with him a special operative, Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis), to infiltrate the Shelby clan and locate the guns. His only advice to her is that she will always remember who she is, which is not easy when you spend every day with the enigmatic and mysterious Thomas Shelby.
The show presents England in the early 1920s in what can best be described as cinematic poetry. Everything from the colours, sets, costumes, editing and cinematography is swoon-worthy right. Peaky Blinders takes the liberty to be mystical, lyrical and a visual treat. My favourite example is a sermon by the famous spoken-word poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who plays a preacher on the show. The show also packs in a powerful rock soundtrack featuring artists such as Nick Cave and Jack White. Nick Cave & the Bad Seed’s Red Right Hand is the opening track set to the first scenes of every episode, instead of the standard opening credits.