This one had been lurking in my Netflix queue for over a year, giving me sideways looks as if to say, “sooner or later, you’ll come around.” And I probably would have come around a long time ago if I hadn’t been in an impatient mood the first time, I tried to watch the first episode. I wish now that I’d given it another ten minutes of my time back then, but then again, if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have the pleasure of binging it now.
Peaky Blinders is another BBC creation presented as a “Netflix Original”, by Netflix is the exclusive distributor thereof here in the United States. They’re up to season 5 now, and since the seasons are short, I’ve no doubt that I’ll have polished this off by the time you read this.
Peaky Blinders follows the Shelby family, a group of midlevel gangsters who run the illegal betting in Birmingham, England in the years after the end of the first world war. The usual BBC attention to period detail is on display, as is their typically impeccable casting, pacing, and writing. The chemistry between the cast members crackles constantly. The show never flatlines, slows down, or veers off course. Every character has depth, and all of the major ones have an arc.
So what’s left to say? I can’t find anything to extensively complain about and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure yet. We could talk about Cillian Murphy in the lead role as Thomas Shelby, the half-gypsy, emotionally deadened WWI veteran who leads the Shelby family in their quest for stability, fortune and, one day, legitimacy. His grim determination and creative ruthlessness just barely masking a man who knows he left the better part of himself in a trench in France. We could talk about Sam Neal (an actor that I’m old enough to remember from the first Jurassic Park movie twenty-six years ago) in the role of Chief Inspector (and later on, Major) an Ulster Protestant Irish policeman who comes to Birmingham to alternatively hunt the Shelby family and use them as leverage in his government sanctioned black ops crusade against the IRA. And how he rationalizes his evil in the name of punishing those he views as traitors and lowborn scum.
We could talk about how the show seamlessly weaves in and around real historical events without ever one coming off as contrived or forced. The squalor and hopelessness of industrial slums that gave rise to a class of criminal more admired than despised by the very people they were preying upon We could spend a few pages on the soundtrack. The show runners made the overt choice to use modern songs and build the tension around them. Many songs from the artist PJ Harvey are employed for the smoky tenor of her voice and the dark themes of her lyrics.
It’s not quite flawless. There are one or two characters who are slightly predictable, and a few others who fade from their own prominence to become merely supporting parts. Which was a shame because they were much better when they had their own heat and an independent trajectory. But if I’m complaining about that then I’m in the privileged position of enjoying a nearly flawless work of art. I have no idea how closely the story matches that of the real-life Peaky Blinders gang; I’d not be surprised if all it had in common with the real thing was the name and the time period. But it doesn’t matter. I’m not looking for historical authenticity, I’m looking for a story I can sink my teeth into and savor, where everything is done right, and no-lose ends are left. Peaky Blinders delivers this in spades and there is no reason not to sit down and watch it from beginning to end at your earliest convenience.