The gangster saga is the most romantic of the criminal sub-genres, and one of the oldest with roots evident in Shakespearean tragedy – what is Macbeth if not a gangster? For three seasons Stephen Knight’s Peaky Blinders has combined the glamour of period American gangster epics like The Godfather and The Untouchables with the grit and graft of a more British tradition.
Series 4 of Peaky Blinders continues the saga of Birmingham-based crime family the Shelbys, – known as the ‘Peaky Blinders’ due to their trademark of sewing razor blades into their caps. Episode 1 picked up immediately from the climax of series 3, which ended with the shock imprisonment of Arthur and John Shelby (Paul Anderson and Joe Cole), their Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory) and nephew Micheal Grey (Finn Cole) due to the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of family leader Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy).
Tommy has made a deal to ultimately secure their freedom whilst reinforcing his power but his scheming has severe consequences which have now alienated the family, leaving him isolated – a lonely man in a vast mansion with only his servants and infant son for company.
Tommy appears to have reached the apex of the gangster’s journey, the moment where the antihero consolidates his power and is welcomed into mainstream society. However, all is not entirely going his way. Along with the estrangement of his brothers and Aunt Polly, problems include a threat of industrial action hitting the Shelby factories as union firebrand Jesse Eden (Charlie Murphy) threatens to bring female workers out on strike over equal pay.
All of which pales into insignificance when Tommy receives a written message from Luca Changretta (Adrien Brody) a member of the American Mafia. The ‘greeting’ (extended to all the Shelbys) is not a friendly one, signalling the beginning of a vendetta against the family for the deaths of Angel and Vincente Changretta in series 3.
Tommy is a man both at war with the British establishment, and in thrall to it. In his ruthless drive to bring the Shelby family out of the underworld of illicit gambling and race fixing to become respectable factory owners, he has been willing to sacrifice everything dear to him. Not since he played a terrorist in the 2005 thriller Red Eye have Cillian Murphy’s startling blue eyes been so well employed as in Peaky Blinders; despite the actor’s slight frame those cold eyes burn through the screen, and he is more frightening the more softly spoken he becomes.
This episode begins and finishes dancing on a knife-edge of suspense and tension setting up what promises to become the most explosive and bloody Peaky series to date. Director David Caffrey doesn’t stray from the slick visual formula of the show, roaring twenties fashions and cars, sharp haircuts, industrial smog, slow motion, and an anachronistic alt-rock soundtrack. From the moment the familiar chimes of the series’ adopted theme – ‘Red Right Hand’ by Nick Cave and The Bad Seed – ring out, Peaky fans will be in raptures.
Did you tune in for Peaky Blinders series 4 episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!