Welcome to my new obsession: Peaky Blinders. This BBC/ Netflix period drama has really drawn me in and I ended up binging all seasons in the span of 2 weekends. The series is dark, violent and has a banger of a soundtrack. Set in 1920s Birmingham, the story revolves around the rise and near fall of Tommy Shelby and his family who run a gang that is both ruthless and struggles with gangster life. Now that I have watched seasons 1 – 5, I thought it was time for a review.
Before I get to the full review, let me first tell you something about the series and the history behind it. Peaky Blinders actually existed: there was a gang in the late 19th century that some aspects have been based upon. Why were they called Peaky Blinders? Because of the razor blades hidden in the rim of their caps. This is also something that comes up in the series itself, but the time line of the real life Peaky Blinders and the invention of razor blades is apparently off. So the series is very loosely based on this real life gang.
Without spoiling the series, I think it is safe to say that some historic events play a significant role in the series. The series is set in the 1920s with the first season starting in 1919, with some of the characters having served and come back from WWI. The fifth series is set in 1929 and revolves heavily around the Wall Street crash and the rise of fascism. An also constant feature of the series is the bleak, industrial area of Birmingham the series is set in. It’s grey, there is soot everywhere and you can tell that this is a poor area in the city, which also held true for the real Peaky Blinders.
The series tells the tale of the Shelby family with Tommy Shelby at their center. Tommy pushes the family into different endeavors continuously, from taking over the race courses to vendettas with Italians and from gin making and shipping it to 1920s Prohibition USA to being a killer for hire. Anything unsavory and illegal is pretty much their trade. They use violence to intimidate anyone and everyone they encounter and bribe the police to look the other way.
That makes this series not one for the faint of heart. It features lots of dark, moody scenes as it goes into men dealing with post traumatic stress disorder from WWI, killing people or people they hold dear dying. It also features a lot of explicit violence. There are cracked skulls, busted in noses and lots of people threatened at gun point. It’s bloody business, gory at times and unsavory to say the least.
So what makes this series so good? The characters. Even though the main characters are all evil and they know it (sometimes even unapologetically so) you still root for them. Because while they are bad men and women, the series shows there are even worse people out there. Even though they threaten people they also show loyalty to each other and those they love to the point where they have a hard time letting go. They stay together through thick and thin and that also creates a bond with the viewer. You end up rooting for the Shelby family no matter how horrible they get.
The acting in the series is also sublime. Cillian Murphy plays Tommy Shelby and he is both chilling, endearing and utterly crazy all at the same time. His aunt, Pol, played by Helen McCrory is as cunning as she can be sentimental towards her only son. And Arthur played by Paul Anderson is quite possibly the gem of the series. He is plagued by demons, finds love and is just a big teddy bear. A deadly teddy bear at that, because he is also Tommy’s best hitman together with their other brother John (played by Joe Cole). Oh and the series features Tom Hardy in a stellar supporting role as a Jewish London criminal who changes his mind more often than you can actually understand a word he says.
What keeps you watching are the plot twists. I do have to say that I don’t like all of them. Some of them feel like they are twists for the sake of twists, but at times the plot twists play an important role in the story and keeps the series going. One thing you should know is that I watched the first series years ago and just plain stopped as I couldn’t get into series 2 straight away. That had in part to do with how dark and violent this series is and on the other hand was caused by some of the plot twists that I had just had enough for a bit.
I usually am not too squeamish about violence in movies and series, but with this series it can sometimes get a bit much. So especially if you watch quite a few series like I did, you do get a bit numbed after a while. There is shoot out after shoot out, beating after beating. Where some series or movies get lost in the choreographed fighting scenes, Peaky Blinders is a lot more visceral and that causes it to be much more bleak and dark. This isn’t stylized fighting like John Wick. This is raw and often fueled by rage and impulsive. Punches are thrown left and right and a lot of it also just goes plain wrong.
What drives the story forward though is the soundtrack. For a series set in the 1920s it may be quite surprising to find that the soundtrack consists of artists like Arctic Monkeys, David Bowie and Radiohead. Yes, they made a conscious choice to feature contemporary music mainly. All the music is moody and dark and always adds another layer to the narrative. The best part: it features lots of indie bands that I already love so it was great to hear that coming through. My next step is definitely to listen to the soundtrack to see if there is anything I don’t know yet that I want to add into my music rotation. The soundtrack is simply that good.
In short, this series is a stellar one and I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t see through when this first popped up on Netflix and simply continued with the second season. I definitely left it a bit late. That said, I love this and I know I will be ready to go once season 6 rolls around. Because the season 5 finale definitely hints at that there will be another series after this. I can’t wait!