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Peaky Blinders: Season 5 (Black Tuesday) - First episode review

Peaky Blinders

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

ONE of the BBC’s marquee shows, Peaky Blinders, returned to a new home on BBC1 on Sunday night with a marquee opening episode of its own.

Picking up two years after the events of season four, Steven Knight’s crime saga hit the ground running with a ferociously paced offering that began with news of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and its financial impact upon Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), just as he is attempting to forge a new career as an MP.

For the Shelbys as a whole, the crash was devastating. Their fortunes were seemingly lost. And yet Tommy had a plan (as he always does), even though his family continually needed convincing. The plan, though, looks destined to drag Tommy back into the criminal world he so desperately wants to leave behind.

Throughout this opener, Knight’s storytelling seemed to be riffing on The Godfather and the continued efforts by Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone to turn legitimate… albeit within institutions that were far from it themselves. Hence, while Michael Corleone’s attempts were ultimately undermined by the Catholic Church (in The Godfather III), Tommy’s seem destined to be tested by Parliament itself.

He, himself, acknowledged as much midway through the episode, when having instructed his ‘peaky blinders’ to turn executioner against a child smuggler on behalf of the police and a pompous House of Lords member, he suddenly found himself having to justify his actions to his wider family and then resort to underhand tactics to get the payment he thought was coming.

The ghost of Michael Corleone also lingers over the episode’s standout scene, in which a certain smug Mr Levitt, of The London Times (and played deliciously well by Elliot Cowan), interviews Tommy about his rise to political prominence.

The scene in question oozed menace, as Tommy continually got the upper hand over his inquisitor, while seemingly taking pot-shots at the current state of the celebrity-obsessed, personal muck-raking press. It also became wracked with tension. Would Tommy resort to violence, as Mr Levitt began to shift uneasily in his seat? Or would blackmail suffice?

There was a certain guilty pleasure in watching Mr Levitt be thwarted at every question’s turn… even though his eventual demise, in a lift, in a hail of machine gun bullets, did slightly seem to undermine the articulate victory Tommy had seemed to acquire.

Elsewhere in the episode, Knight’s screenplay seemed determined to acknowledge the feminist movement, empowering several of his leading women, and enabling them to stand up to the men in the family. Hence, Helen McCrory’s Polly seems to have rediscovered her swagger, Sophie Rundle’s Ada is newly pregnant yet unapologetic for being so and Kate Phillips’ Linda Shelby continues to question husband Arthur’s place within the Blinders, while pushing him to achieve higher things. It should be interesting to see who runs out of patience in that relationship first.

Of the newcomers so far, Sam Claflin shone briefly as Oswald Mosley, potentially positioning himself as a wily political opponent for Tommy (for whom words will be just as effective as bullets).

As usual, there’s plenty going on, with numerous plot strands set into motion and plenty of characters to focus on and follow. Whether Knight will be able to navigate satisfactory arcs for all of them is one of the bigger questions posed by this ambitious start.

Another, albeit less serious, is just how far into self parody Knight and his directors will allow the series to become. The slow-motion bursts of the Blinders walking in unison with some belting guitar-driven song remain a defining feature of the show… but there is a danger that they are become repetitive and poorly executed. The season opener certainly induced more of a snigger than any sense of cool.

That being said, such moments do offer moments of rare humour given how dark the path the story as a whole treads. And with both Tommy and older brother Arthur (Paul Anderson) emerging as genuinely tormented, it becomes harder and harder to see any potential for a happy ending for either. Tragedy beckons, it would seem.

Murphy and Anderson, for their part, remain outstanding in their roles – characters who may be difficult to like, but who are damn near impossible to take your eyes off.