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Peaky Blinders: Season 5, Episode 5 (The Shock) - Review

Peaky Blinders

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE penultimate episode of the fifth season of Peaky Blinders achieved some series highs, as well as highlighting its ongoing problems with femininity.

First, the positives. And there were many, not least a barnstorming speech from Sam Claflin’s Sir Oswald Mosley, which simultaneously managed to combine appropriate historical context with ‘on the money’ contemporary pot-shots at everything from Brexit to Donald Trump. It was a dazzling display of writing, anchored by a tour-de-force performance from Claflin.

The speech in question came early in the hour, as Mosley unveiled his grand plan to create a new political party, the British Union of Fascists, which would put the rights of everyday workers above the more affluent likes of Jews. The speech was abhorrent, as evidenced by Aberama Gold (Aiden Gillen)’s fantastic response – a spit into the wind, to underline the disdain felt about its sentiments.

But it did serve to show how well placed rhetoric can be used to stir rebellion and create change. Mosley leant on class division and his words weren’t without some truth. Yet it masked the danger of the real ideologies within, thereby paving the way for the tidal wave of fascism that was about to sweep Europe throughout the ’30s, culminating in the rise of dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

And yet, Steven Knight also managed to lend the speech contemporary resonance, nodding towards the social divides that Brexit has caused (especially over issues such as immigration and, therefore, tolerance) as well as the rise of a modern day ‘dictator’ such as US President Donald Trump… he even managed to include the word ‘trump’ at one point, while having Mosley lash out at the newspapers for delivering ‘fake news’.

The speech really was a bravura piece of writing, given added impetus and potency by the brilliance of Claflin’s delivery. This was his Mosley stepping out of the shadows to deliver his rallying call and it delivered quite a punch… stirring the audience it was aimed at, while truly revealing him to be the ‘big bad’ of this fifth season.

Alas, if that speech marked Peaky Blinders at its absolute best, the moments that followed did serve to highlight Peaky Blinders at its worst. Mosley’s villainy was already such that it didn’t really need to then have a scene of him ‘fucking’ a swan (or ballet dancer), ferociously tackling her from behind in the most degrading way possible as if to underline the show’s ongoing problem with feminism.

Peaky Blinders has long had a history of depicting sexual violence towards women, a statement underlined by the fact that most episodes come with a warning about such content before they air. But while progress has certainly been made in its portrayal of most of the female protagonists (with Ada Shelby and Polly both emerging with most credit this series), there is still an alarming tendency to have more peripheral female characters demeaned.

Mosley didn’t need to add sexual deviance to an already vile character.

Two more examples of the best and the worst were to be found in this episode’s big set pieces. The best saw the unexpected death of Colonel Ben Younger (Kingsley Ben-Adir) in a car bomb explosion, possibly at the hands of Special Branch, Section D, in response to his investigation of Mosley.

The fact that the explosion also claimed the life of an innocent 10-year-old child was especially potent, allowing a rare moment of poignancy for Cillian Murphy’s Tommy, as well as more inner torment. He has another innocent life to atone for… and the toll of a lifetime’s worth of killing is already taking a heavy toll on the character this season. Murphy played the scene and its aftermath brilliantly.

In contrast, Arthur’s machine gun rampage against the Titanic gang in Poplar was evidence of Peaky Blinders at its most ludicrous. Paul Anderson’s character would almost certainly have ben gunned down in the confrontation if the scene hadn’t been played so over the top, thereby reducing said scene to virtual parody and dissipating any tension.

Anderson fared far better during the moments following the shooting of his beloved Linda, during which she invited him to stay among the living to stew in his own torment. In those few seconds, Anderson conveyed the tumultuous nature of his fractured psychology to perfect effect… neatly offsetting a certain self-loathing with a warm embrace of his more psychotic inclinations during a final act confrontation with the Billy Boys’ Jimmy McCavern (Brian Gleeson).

For all of the criticisms of Peaky Blinders as a whole, The Shock did ultimately serve to highlight the series at its very best, neatly setting things up for the season finale next week with plenty of enemies to dispatch and uncertainty surrounding every character hanging in the air.

It should be quite a climax to a mostly excellent fifth series.