I couldn’t tell you the exact moment when I was sold into new BBC drama Peaky Blinders; whether it was the first dialogue exchanged from one Chinese woman passing a baby to another, asking “does your tit still have milk?”, or if it was Cillian Murphy riding bareback on a horse down a Birmingham street. Either way, it didn’t take any longer than the first few minutes.
Peaky Blinders is created by Steven Knight, whose previous work includes writing the screenplays for Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises. It tells the relatively unknown tale of a real life gangster family that terrorised the streets of 1920’s Birmingham, their nickname deriving from the hidden razorblades sewn into the rims of their caps. In this adaption, Murphy plays Thomas Shelby, the second in command of the gang that is run by his brother, although he is harbouring aspirations beyond his position, and seems to have the brains to be able knock his dad off the top spot. When a shipment of government munitions bound for Libya is accidentally delivered to him, Thomas Shelby decides to take full advantage of the situation, storing them and intending to sell them back to the highest bidder. This ‘robbery’ does however bring down a whole world of trouble to Birmingham, in the form of Sam Neill as CI Campbell, a lambasting Northern Irish cop who is brought in straight from Belfast to sort out the rabble of the Birmingham streets and find the lost weapons. I haven’t seen Sam Neill since Jurassic Park 3, but in this he seems to have aged gracefully into Mr Banks. His character so far has gazed in horror at the hellish visions on Birmingham’s night time streets (although it looked more to me like my old student club on a Saturday night), broken someone’s fingers, and gone all bashful when Winston Churchill complimented him on his hat. He’s great so far.
What’s promising about Peaky Blinders is that it is looking to be stylish and fun rather than historically accurate and serious, but as a result of some good casting, Cillian Murphy above all else, the characters are a bit more interesting and involving than they would be if this was just an average poor man’s Tarantino, stylish version of history, which it could have been. References to how the First World War has affected all these young men of the time was intriguing and seemed unique; although I have been told this is also the premise behind Boardwalk Empire, with which Peaky Blinders has already been compared, but I haven’t seen it, so this seemed pretty fresh to me. Besides, American gangsters have been covered extensively, but who can say they’ve seen a programme on early 20th century Brummie gangsters before? Peaky Blinders feels like it’s definitely worth sticking with.