Peaky Blinders: Episode 1 - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
STEVEN Knight has already proved himself a great writer with the screenplays for Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, so it’s perhaps little wonder that one of the main things that instantly marks new BBC2 crime drama Peaky Blinders out as so good is the quality of its script.
Set in post-First World War Birmingham and based on the true story of one of Britain’s most notorious (and ruthless) crime families, Peaky Blinders has been tipped as the UK equivalent to Boardwalk Empire and, on the evidence of episode one, could well live up to that billing.
The story, thus far, is slow-burning but intricately layered. There’s a robbery of guns, much duplicity, political interests festering beneath every surface and family tensions.
Having established the fear factor of The Peaky Blinders almost immediately with a terrifically moody opening featuring Cillian Murphy’s Thomas Shelby on a horse and local residents cowering, the episode then brought in his main adversary, CI Campbell (Sam Neill), a man whose methods are no less ruthless.
Campbell has been brought to Birmingham with a mission to clean it up. His real agenda, though, is to get to the bottom of the theft of some guns that even Winston Churchill has an interest in.
During one cracking exchange, it is Churchill who warns Campbell that “this is England, not Belfast – bodies thrown in the river here wash up in the papers”, before adding: “If you have to dig holes for bodies, dig them deep.”
It’s a deft touch that implies there’ll be no messing about for Campbell when it comes to performing his duties. And woe betide any man who gets in his way.
Murphy, for his part, exudes quiet menace. His stare is ice cold, his presence quietly formidable. Yet, he’s also a thinker. He is the man behind the robbery in question (a fortuitous piece of business, as it turns out) who has gone against the advice of the matriarchal Aunt Polly (excellent Helen McCrory) and kept them hidden rather than dumping them for the police to find in the hope of removing some of the heat.
His motives remain unclear. But it’s clear that Shelby is a complex individual, who is afraid of no one. He’s also clever and loyal. When a war-traumatised fellow Peaky Blinder accidentally killed a rival Italian businessman, he appeared to perform the punishment slaying himself in a bid to avoid further conflict.
Yet, moments later, his act of apparently shooting his colleague was revealed to be a great piece of duplicity. It should be fascinating to watch how Shelby and Campbell square off against each other, particularly as Neill is playing so effectively against nice-guy type as a Wyatt Earp-style no-nonsense lawman.
There are other players, too, from McCrory’s wise matriarch to Paul Anderson’s menacing brother Arthur and mischievous Communist Freddie (Iddo Goldberg) who is carrying on with the youngest Shelby. And, of course, the beautiful barmaid Grace (Annabelle Wallis), who has been placed at the heart of the community as the secret eyes and ears of Campbell.
All laid enough groundwork to make them fascinating characters in their own right. And it should be fascinating to see how they are fare over the coming weeks.
Otto Bathurst’s direction, meanwhile, lends the series an instantly gratifying style. This has a cinematic grandeur that also matches the faultless production values of the best of HBO.
All told, the BBC looks to have a sizeable hit on its hands – an intelligent, quietly gripping period crime drama bolstered by excellent production values and towering performances. We’re impressed…