From the moment Cillian Murphy’s World War 1 veteran-turned-bookmaker, Tommy Shelby, appeared on a horse, silhouetted against the gloomy skyline to the doom-ridden strains of Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand”, it was obvious that this wasn’t a straightforward historical drama. Instead, writer Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things) has clearly looked across the Atlantic Ocean to HBO for inspiration, setting his tale of Brummie gangsters in a vivid, darkly compelling world and adding a modern soundtrack, sharp haircuts and an inescapable sense that this way trouble lies.
Comparisons with Boardwalk Empire, which covers the same period and shares a similar interest in the horrors visited on a generation by the First World War are inevitable. If anything, it owes more of a debt to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, or David Milch’s Deadwood. Peaky Blinders feels like a western in all but name complete with a righteous law man (Sam Neill in full voice and with a dead-on Northern Irish accent), an outlaw family gang and a beautiful girl working in a saloon.
It could have been clichéd but Knight and director Otto Bathurst pulled the strings with such confidence that the whole thing felt vibrant and new. They also made early 20th-century Birmingham seem like a positively thrilling place to be. The Midlands city is often described as the least glamorous area on Earth but Knight gave his hometown swagger and style and it was refreshing to see a British gangster drama set outside of London or Brighton.They were helped, too, by their choice of leading man. Murphy, with his still, angular face and haunted eyes has always had a slightly unearthly quality about him, and Peaky Blinders plays to that, shooting him framed by both fire and darkness, Lucifer fallen to earth. You never doubted that his Tommy, driven by war demons and always one step ahead of his opponents, was a man who could and would kill. Similarly, Neill was utterly convincing as the God-fearing Chief Inspector Campbell.
It’s not perfect. Some of the accents sound as though they reached Birmingham by way of the Irish Sea and other accents were just difficult to interpret at times. Also, I found myself wanting to know more backstory about each character. But hey, these are minor issues in a show this enthralling, and Tom Hardy is joining season 2 which will definitely be an exciting viewing experience. This show is definitely worth the viewing and should be viewed!