BBC Two’s Peaky Blinders
Season 1, Episode 1
Directed by Otto Bathurst
Written by Steven Knight
* For a recap & review of Episode 2, click here.
When? Just after the First World War and the horror of the trenches.
Where? Birmingham, a’right.
Leader of the Peaky Blinders, a gang named for wearing razor blades in the bib of their peaked caps, Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) visits Birmingham’s lower quarters. He finds a girl that “tells fortunes” and proceeds to have a spell put on his horse. He tells everybody in the nearby vicinity when the horse is racing. And to keep hushed up about what they’ve seen and heard. One immediate thing I’ve always loved is that we get Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” as the theme song of the series. Great addition.
There’s more than just Tom in the Shelby gang. Little Finn is smoking cigarettes, Arthur (Paul Anderson) is apparently pissed off. Then there’s John (Joe Cole). And every last one of them, well except for Finn at his young age, is putting in work. The oldest is Arthur, and he is the pissiest, too. Both in attitude and his alcoholism. Arthur ain’t happy about Tommy being down with the Chinese casting spells. More than that he feels overstepped by his younger brother. Though Tom puts it blunt: “I think. So that you don‘t have to.”
Meanwhile, Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill) is on his way towards the Blinders. He’s got files all them all. At the same time, there’s some Communist-type activity happening amongst the workers in Birmingham. Freddie Thorne (Iddo Goldberg) is riling people up to strike. Imagine there’ll be some conflict along the way between the Blinders and the Communists. Right smack dab in the middle is Campbell, as well. Lots of good angles for the story to play towards. Also, it turns out Tommy and Freddie know one another from serving during World War I in the army. Fighting in the dirty trench warfare over on those fields far away from homein France. However, they’re at separate ends of the spectrum. Tommy doesn’t entertain Mr. Thorne much. But we learn from the latter about a “robbery of national significance“, which came down with word from Winston Churchill that also included a list; apparently both Tommy and Freddie are on it. Hmm.
At the same time there’s another soldier back home, Danny Whizz-Bang (Samuel Edward-Cook). He’s obviously got PTSD, Shell Shock as they called it. He doesn’t remember freaking out, yet Tom helps him out. Lots of chatter from Thorne. He’s a mouthy one, that.
Now we meet Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory). She pulls a gun on nephew John. Turns out she’s the one keeping a lid on the Shelby boys. At least John, anyway. Love that she’s this tough woman amongst a family of men. Speaking of family, the lads and their associates are having a meeting. Seems there’s a big city wide clean up. Tommy – without telling Arthur – found out from their bought officers that Inspector Campbell has made a name for himself busting up the IRA in Belfast. Now he’s headed to Birmingham, recruiting tough Irish fighters to help him beat the streets. The Blinders aren’t exactly worried, though John in his youth looks a little anxious. Still, Polly is tough, as is Tommy. For his part, Arthur’s not pleased with his younger brother. It’s as if Tom is slowly undermining him.
Through Campbell’s eyes we see Birmingham as a dirty cesspool. The streets at night are filled with the yells of the drunk, vomit, madness. A real mess that he’s looking to fix.
In a church, Tommy tells Polly about the recent robbery she knows nought about. Him and a couple of the good ole boys found a bit of heavy artillery – “all bound for Libya,” he tells her. Rather than leaving it all or tossing it, Tom stashed it away. And now there’s an Inspector out of Belfast headed to their turf. Coincidence? Doubt it.
Have to mention, I love that this is a period piece yet there’s contemporary music included. Makes for a unique feel that I find exciting. It doesn’t feel out of place, but exactly perfect somehow.
Seems that Ada Shelby (Sophie Rundle) is involved romantically with Freddie Thorne. Not something Tommy, or any of the brothers for that matter would enjoy hearing. So they meet in secret, even make love in secret wherever they can. This will absolutely cause chaos somewhere down the line. Just a matter of time.
At the local bar a woman turns up to find work as a barmaid. Her name is Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis), a proper Irish lass. The owner doesn’t think she’s cut out for a rough spot like that: “You‘re too pretty,” he tells her. Although she convinces him by emptying out the spittoons while singing some song from back in the Old Country.
Inspector Campbell sees only the grim in Birmingham. He hates the prostitution, the abuse, the crowded conditions, thieves, beggars, a “stinking pile” of a city. He’s ready to take the Peaky Blinders on. Sam Neill is a bad ass and this opening speech is solid. The writing is great, too. Campbell further takes on the corrupt cops, so on. No fucking quarter. He’s brought in a load of “God fearing” men to swear in for knocking heads and such.
Arthur is the first to end up meeting with Campbell. He’s taken by some men, beaten bloody. Then asked questions to which he has no answers. Because Tommy’s been doing his own thing without keeping older brother in the loop, everything’s a tad lopsided. “The only thing that interests me is the truth,” says Campbell. Arthur just can’t give up the goods. ‘Cause he doesn’t know a thing.
Now we get to witness Ms. Burgess working at the bar. She winds up coming across Tommy who makes a fairly rude comment. But the owner warns of getting too close to a Shelby, specifically that one. Later on, she calms all the fighting Irish hearts in the bar by singing a nice song, another one from back home that all the lads join in singing, too. Until Tommy Shelby arrives, then the place goes quiet. This might be the beginning of something. Simultaneously, Ada and Freddie are shacking up under everyone’s noses. Something is clearly broken in Tommy, as he can’t seem to gain back the emotion he once likely had, not after the war. While others are moving on and living life.
At the next family meeting, Arthur is getting fixed up. He brings back all the news from Campbell, about Churchill, the robbery. Things didn’t go as planned for Tommy. Worst of all Arthur wants to work with them. He’s got no clue what’s going on.
Furthermore, we come to find Tommy’s taken to smoking opium. That may stand for the lack of libido or feelings he’s had, accompanied by PTSD, the memories of war. He has flashbacks that are terrifying, even to the audience. Imagine being Tom Shelby. Even the opium can’t cut it all out fully. Christ.
The worst happens when Danny Whizz-Bang is being told to go home. By a Frenchman. Who pulls a blade. This ends up with the poor man getting stabbed, as the memories of Frenchmen with bayonets rain down on Danny. Likely, Tom or someone else is going to have to put Dan down. Because he will only suffer a worse fate if they toss him in the bin; those mental hospitals back then were beyond snake pits, they were death sentences, a lifetime of brutal madness.
Campbell is busy meeting Mr. Winston Churchill (Andy Nyman). They catch up on things. The Inspector tells him all about what he suspects thus far, as well as the way forward. Appears Campbell is a tough, hard man. Still, he gets a media warning about the papers from Churchill: “If there are bodies to be buried, dig holes. And dig them deep.” Awesome appearance of Mr. Churchill, giving us a side of him that too many rosy-eyed people would dare not entertain.
Not everyone is impressed with the way Tommy’s handling things for the Blinders. An old family friend, Charlie Strong (Ned Dennehy), warns against being too bold. It may just begin something terrible.
Charlie: “Is it another war you‘re looking for, Tommy?”
We understand now that Ms. Burgess and Mr. Campbell are both working on the same side. She’s a copper. Tommy Shelby intrigues her, and Campbell worries she might let her judgement be clouded. We also come to discover Grace’s father was murdered by the IRA. A personal connection to wanting crime, particularly that of the Irish persuasion, eradicated from their stomping grounds. Little tougher than it sounds.
The man Danny killed was an Italian, not a Frenchman. He has connections. In order to save themselves from a war, Tommy has to “dispatch” Danny on his own. As the Italians watch. “I died over there anyway, Tommy. I left my fuckin‘ brains in the mud,” Danny weeps. Such a tragic thing. To see men torn apart by war like that. Saddest part? Hasn’t changed a whole lot since. Still not enough help for veterans. At least Danny is with his buddy Tommy near the end. Though he has to toss the body in a boat, get it out of the city, so as not to alert the new coppers in the city.
Except Danny ain’t dead. Charlie’s driving the boat, filling him in on things. Now he’s headed to London for a job.
Excited to recap and review the next episode. Stay with me. This is one of my favourite series’ ever. My second time watching these now, so things are popping out I’d not noticed the first go. Love the cinematography, the grittiness of the plot and story, the characters. Love everything about it.