Big words, but never more deserved – and it’s not a ‘hype’ thing, either. This show’s the real deal. After two powerful series following the adventures and misadventures of the power-hungry Shelby Family, brought to us with the help of a deliciously anachronistic soundtrack (thanking you Jack White, Nick Cave et al.) there barely seemed room for improvement. Thus far, the show’s been dark, sadistic, funny and heartbreaking – yet somehow, the third series of BBC’s Birmingham gangland drama Peaky Blinders, set in 1924, has reached new heights of blood-thirsty perfection. But why do we love it so? Let us count the ways…
Tommy Shelby is magnetic
Cillian Murphy has been superb in many roles – but here he plays a total blinder (sorry). Those piercing blue eyes that truly speak more than a thousand words; that peaked cap placed at a jaunty angle (with razor blades sewn in, just in case anyone upsets him – hence the series name). It feels like this is the role of his career. Oh, not to mention the 200 cigarettes he puffs his way through in every episode, and that constant struggle you witness him go through – between the desire for a normal life with sweetheart Grace and their new baby, and the itch for a fight that’s in his DNA, the yearning for the next step up the ladder. Everything about this baby-faced thug is intriguing – and as he goes ‘international’, the scope this time is simply epic.
The violence is so real
Though it has very heightened, stylised moments, Peaky Blinders is the utter antithesis of men-in-tights franchises, where men with capes ping off buildings, brush themselves off and start over. As Cillian Murphy says, ‘It’s not Bourne Identity’. When someone gets socked in the gob, it bloody hurts for a long time, and makes you want to hide under a cushion. There’s plenty of blood spilt, but we always see the fallout, be it physical or emotional, the tension building as each character faces their own personal reckoning. Helen McCrory, who plays steely, ambitious aunt Polly, nails it when she says: ‘My character’s killed a man. They’re all living with the guilt of the violence they perpetrate. They all have to look at themselves in the mirror the next day’.
It’s stylish as hell
Peaky Blinders simply looks (and sounds) unlike anything else on TV. With the whiff of sex and violence never far away, its sumptuous, moody lighting, the charred-looking scenery, the smoke billowing out of industrial smokestacks… It’s so damn stylish it could give Mad Men a run for its money. The world they inhabit looks toxic, but such a bleak landscape has never seemed so sexy. Juxtapose this grubby netherworld of backstreet beatings with that of country mansions and lavish banquets of the nouveau riche Selbys. And it makes everything more thrilling than ever. We are particular fans of the horrendous, life-sized portrait of Thomas Selby that graces the entrance to the gang boss’s new palatial pad. ‘But that’s the thing with the nouveau riche’, says Murphy. ‘What are we going to do with all this money? We’ll put a massive big painting of ourselves on the wall!’
It’s given us the most gripping wedding scene ever
Forget Rory and Amy in Doctor Who or, if you prefer, Monica and Chandler in Friends – for pure anticipation, the opening wedding scene that kicked off this series was just brilliant. Firstly, writer Steve Knight ratcheted up the suspense (who is Tommy marrying?), with the help of gypsy tradition – a lace veil over the head of the bride-to-be’s head – right until the moment she lifts it and says, ‘I do’. As one Twitter user eloquently put it, ‘I nearly weed myself with the pure excitement of it all’! Quite. The ensuing circus, from Tommy’s brother Albert’s anarchic best man speech (blissfully cut short), to the promise Tommy has his crew make that there’ll be ‘no snow’ in front of Grace’s upper-crust relatives, a run-in with a Russian infiltrator and some bare-knuckle fighting – it was a glimpse of the pure insanity Grace will face if she manages to stick the pace.
Paddy Considine’s in this series
Ladies get their Tom Hardy fix when the hunky actor pops back to the mean streets of Birmingham in the guise of gangster Alfie Solomons – but for a very different kind of unsettling charisma, enter Paddy Considine who plays a priest in this series, and ‘not a very nice person’ according to the show’s creator. He brings a whole new danger to proceedings – this time from the corrupt core of the church, an enemy that puts worldly-wise Tommy on the back foot and one which he will need very different weapons to fight. As ever though, Tommy has a selection of tricks up his sleeve – and an awful lot of loyal back-up.
Peaky Blinders continues on Thursdays, 9pm, BBC2.