Oh man, I love the Nick Cave song Peaky Blinders picked for its opening credits. I also love Cillian Murphy.
In fact, there are many things that makes this show irresistible. Lots of flashy direction makes this time period that much more vibrant. Also, there are newsboy caps on grown men for days. Among the set design, music and costumes, there's a style to this show, unique to itself. And it daringly well walks the razor's edge of gritty and glossy, somehow without ever overindulging either one.
Orson Welles and Steven Knight have something in common. The classy gangster is a Hollywood invention. But while Welles uttered those words with disdain, Knight is banking on them. This first episode opens with something called a 'powder trick'. The way it is regarded among the characters runs the gamut from magic to fraud. But the undeniable genius of it is how it looks. The trick itself is done all for show, red powder blown into what will hopefully be the winning horse's nose, in an upcoming race. It's a symbol of something so powerfully aesthetic that it can manifest an entire mythology. And it does. It also handily sets in motion the terms of this show's agreements. Thomas Shelby is the mastermind behind this illusion. He is a man who understands, on a deep level, what his resources are. He also understands his family's station, both what they're up against and what's possible for them at this moment in time. But the most profound thing he understands is that he cannot move into the future with the trauma of war weighing him down, and neither can the other members of the gang. All of this makes him a very, very compelling protagonist. And, a classy guy.
The show isn't without the expected presence of the crew that naturally surrounds your whipsmart but wildly reluctant gangster. There is the requisite bad cop (Sam Neill doing a great Liam Neeson!) out for Blinders blood, a very wise Aunt Polly aka the Shelby matriarch, played by the delightful Helen McCroy, and the angelic drifter (Annabelle Wallis) who breezes into town and catches Tommy's eye (or did he catch hers). All three are about to be trouble with a capital T for Tommy. But of course! Round out the usual suspects with the young Shelby sister, Ada, in love with Tommy's nemesis with whom he spent time in the trenches and Thomas' brother, Arthur (Paul Anderson), so much brawn and bristle, you almost have to laugh in his first appearance because it's so wonderfully over the top. Now, the plot of this first episode wouldn't be complete without a secret illegal stash of guns that 'fell off a truck', would it? No! Exactly.
So, while the show is snappy as hell (and gorgeous and crisp) (did I mention newsboy caps?), there's a refined theme running throughout this episode that is dark, heavy and psychologically sophisticated. Amazingly, I am not even referring to the magnifying glass on a wickedly unforgiving classist society. But rather the effects of war, namely post-traumatic stress disorder, on the human psyche. In the way the character of Danny Whizz Bang, an ailing ex-soldier, is regarded, we see compassion, intolerance, pity and... acceptance. Incidentally, it's a lovely way to show another side of Thomas, early on, as his compassion and empathy utterly rules the scene when we first meet Danny. Of course, by the episode's end, after Danny has shown he is unable to control his violent impulses to the detriment of a cafe waiter, he's shot, one bullet in the back of the head, meant mercifully, courtesy of the Peaky Blinders.
Brilliantly, it's all a ruse. A staging for its intrinsic visual value. A powder trick for a captive audience. Okay, I'm a believer.
* This link is completely awesome.
* There's really no shortage of things happening in Thomas Shelby's head.
* You never mistake who's in charge and why.
* Once again, Sam Neill!
* Maybe Orson Welles was right, for every gangster, there's a power hungry cop looking to make his career in the shadows.
Freddie: "Oh my Ada. Only Princess of the royal family of the Kingdom of Small Heath."
Polly: "Speak. God and Aunt Polly are listening."
Polly: "You have your mother’s common sense and your father’s devilment. I see them fighting. Let your mother win."
Four out of four Winston Churchill appearances.