Contains spoilers for Peaky Blinders series 4 episodes 1-3
Tellingly, episode 4 sees Luca Changretta tell one of his well-tailored goons “everything here is about the war.”
It has become evident that this series is about facing the past. The killing of Angel and Vincente Changretta in series 3 brings Luca Changretta’s (Adrien Brody) vendetta upon the Shelby family. At the end of the previous series Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) made a deal with agents of the crown putting family members at risk. The gamble paid out, but has turned Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory) against him. She has now made a secret deal with Luca to spare her family in return for giving up Tommy.
The shadow of the great war falls over Peaky Blinders as thickly as soot from Birmingham’s factories lies over the city. Tommy, older brother Arthur (Paul Anderson), and now deceased younger brother John all served in the war and all returned changed men.
We have never been given insight into what Tommy was like before his wartime experience, but Jessie Eden’s revelations in episode 3 painted a picture of a very different man. One who was in love, one who was committed to social and political causes.
That wartime experience is most obvious on a practical level. Tommy knows how to lead men, set up an ambush, and can pull a trigger without emotion. Nevertheless, there are deeper and more complex effects. Having seen death on an industrial scale, he has rejected his former beliefs and is obsessed with accumulating power and forcing his way into the upper-class establishment that he saw were insulated from the effects the war which wasted working-class men by the shovel load.
When beleaguered Shelby factory manager Niall Devlin (Graeme Hawley) suggests Tommy is a class traitor he replies “I am not a traitor to my class, I am just an extreme example of what a working man can achieve.” Secretly it is clear that Tommy does feel guilt – on one hand, he has engineered a general strike that is causing misery to working people. On the other, he is secretly using Shelby funds to open orphanages. He is a contradictory man.
Tommy is losing the war with Changretta. His experience in military strategy may well be a hindrance. Changretta doesn’t play by those rules. He seems to have an understanding of Tommy’s tactics that allow him to predict his moves.
The hiring of Aberama Gold (Aidan Gillen) is another dangerous play by Tommy, but may yet be significant. Gold doesn’t play by the rules either, operating in a guerrilla fashion: “we’re gypsies, and we are already underground.” So far Tommy hasn’t once got the drop on Changretta, but Gold is able to trap him in an ambush he is lucky to escape – or is he? Could Gold be playing both sides against each other?
Lightening the tone, Tommy also called on an old ‘friend’ for background on Changretta’s movements and dealings – every Peaky fan’s favourite Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy). Hardy is writer Steven Knight’s big gun, used sparingly because he makes a big noise. Brutal as Peaky Blinders is, it is also frequently hilarious, and Hardy has a ball delivering Knight’s most profane dialogue.
With only two episodes remaining, Changretta is holding four aces and Tommy has a dead man’s hand. What are the chances he can convert that into a straight flush?
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