I review the first part in the 1919-set Birmingham epic gangster drama Peaky Blinders, starring Cillian Murphy, Sam Neil and Helen McCrory, created by Steven Knight, with its first episode airing last Thursday on BBC Two in the UK. It’s something well worth checking out, as I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
PEAKY BLINDERS – EPISODE 1 (of 6)
I know yesterday I said that the first review going up TV-related on this blog would be of Orphan Black, but that’s because I completely missed out the first episode of Peaky Blinders, a Post World War One gangster-epic set in Birmingham that aired last Thursday until I stumbled across it yesterday searching for new TV shows to add to the list. This was one that I only found after posting that article, mainly due to a rave review from Cultbox about this pilot.
So, knowing full well that I don’t normally watch period gangster shows, particularly those set in 1919 Birmingham, I thought I’d check it out just to see what it would be like. And as it turns out, Peaky Blinders really took me by surprise. I loved it, and it may well end up being a contender for TV Show of the year depending on how well the next five episodes of this six-part mini-series play out.
Starring Cillian Murphy as the leader of the Peaky Blinders gang, this post-wartime drama has been billed as the English answer to Boardwalk Empire and having never seen Boardwalk Empire but understanding that this is high praise, the show certainly does live up to the consistently high reviews that I’ve seen. Aside from the weak accents portrayed by the cast, most of the actors and actresses involved come across as pretty strong – Sam Neill delivers a solid performance as C.I. Chester Campbell, and Paul Anderson impresses as Arthur Shelby. Created by Steven Knight and directed by Otto Bathurst and Tom Harper, Peaky Blinders is a show that whilst uses a large elements of clichés, it chooses to embrace them rather than to try and avoid them. This approach seems to work here, and I was utterly engrossed by this storyline that is stylish and fun, but its main weakness is its predictability.
However, despite its flaws – the pilot episode really does manage to keep you entertained, right from the moment that Cillian Murphy, a man with attitude on his horse – makes his way through the dark and damp alleyways of Birmingham. The episode makes use of its interesting setting to weave a strong and solid storyline that will certainly have me sticking around for more to come. Something out of my comfort zone is always good as this show continues to expand my viewing tastes, which have seriously developed over the past year from virtually nothing but Doctor Who and Sherlock to everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to well, Peaky Blinders – because these two shows couldn’t be further apart in tone, plot, setting and general atmosphere.
Whilst of course there is the odd clunky expositional dialogue as one would expect from a pilot episode, the main narrative is fairly solid. The show makes strong use of its high production values and delivers a very fun opening hour, following the Peaky Blinders stealing the ‘wrong box’ ending up in possession of a crate of guns which thus brings down the attention of the government. This prompts Winston Churchill to send in Sam Neill’s ruthless and uncompromising Chester Campbell to sort things out. When you throw in sideplots featuring a young Shelby daughter in a Romeo and Juliet-type relationship with a Communist connected to her brother, the ongoing threat of rival gangs and an early problem dealing with the after affects of World War One – there is a wealth of content to explore that will be able to keep the audience busy over the course of the six episode running time.
The first episode as a whole then, is a pretty solid debut, promising a complex tale and a greater mystery to be uncovered over future episodes. I’ll be reviewing Episode 2 the day after it airs on BBC 2 this coming Thursday, as it allows a nice viewing scheduled for me because comedy program Mock the Week fits in perfectly well afterwards, and with Orphan Black and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D coming on Fridays, the end of the week will now be pretty full for me when it comes to TV viewing, and not counting the vast amount of other shows that I intend to catch up on – such as the aforementioned Buffy and the not-mentioned-until-this-point Supernatural.
In short, go watch Peaky Blinders. You won’t regret it. This could well be the show that everyone’s talking about come Oscar period.
PEAKY BLINDERS: Episode 1, COMING SOON: Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6.