18 March 2018

What makes Peaky Blinders so compelling?


*We do not own any of these images*

It's taken me so long to get a few words together regarding the forth season of Peaky Blinders. Every time I opened this draft my mind just went blank. Which aspect of this show should I even focus on when all of it is so wonderfully crafted? Just as I told Joe Cole last summer, Peaky Blinders is simply one of the best shows out there. The writing, directing, cinematography, female characters- I mean the whole thing is fantastic. As a film graduate it is so satisfying to watch. Peaky Blinders is a stellar example of great film-making in a television format.
This general spoiler-free review will touch upon several elements of the show and explain why it is, in my opinion, such a success.





1. Character based story-telling

Let's take a look at the cast. It's full of award-winners and nominees, talented artists with many previous successful projects under their belts. Peaky Blinders finds its lead Tommy Shelby in Cillian Murphy, an Irish actor who over the years has illustrated his talent through a variety of genres, most recently as the un-named shell-shocked soldier in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk. Murphy successfully carries the show on his shoulders with his riveting portrayal as the gangster mastermind, his Birmingham accent flawless and his facial expressions as enchanting as ever.
It's such a joy to watch him perform. As soon as he starts speaking everything else fades away, just as you may forget you're in the Cinema when you're watching a film. When a production enables that kind of escapism, you know it's damn good.

Helen McCrory plays Polly who could be considered the female lead of the show, one of many of Peaky Blinders well-written female characters. She isn't one-dimensional, she isn't portrayed only as 'bossy' or a 'business-woman' but a woman who can be both vulnerable and driven, loving and sharp. She is a wonderful example of a well-written, complex female character who is human, who makes mistakes, whose life is complicated. She brings so much to the show and I could watch her for hours on end. Her performance in Penny Dreadful is worthy of all the awards (another show which deserves much more recognition).


 I can't tell you how grateful I am for these female characters. They are valued: they are given proper story-lines and character arcs and they are not simple love interests. There are quite a few goose-bump inducing scenes through-out the seasons but the one where several of the female characters walk down the street with their heads held high and determination shining in their eyes is truly unforgettable.

I could write pages about the other regulars of the show, there isn't one weak member. Each actor portrays a character with a backstory and a motive which holds its own individual significance but also plays a part in the story as a whole, like a thread of a spider's web. Not one character is fully 'good' or 'evil'. The audience is pulled deeper into the story with every new episode as they begin to pick-up the characters' strengths and weaknesses, yet the show never ceases to surprise us with unexpected twists and turns.


Paul Anderson is captivating as the unpredictable Arthur Shelby, Joe Cole shines as John Shelby and I'd even go as far to say that he is the scene-stealer. Sophie Rundle, Finn Cole, and minor roles incorporated by Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Sam Neill, Tom Hardy, Adrien Brody - the list of talent goes on and on. Peaky Blinders is what you get when you mix talented actors with passionate story-telling.

(I'm running out of synonyms for 'fantastic' here, by now you should get the idea).


2. History and Politics

Peaky Blinders takes place in 20th century post WWI Britain. Through its well established range of characters the show continuously tackles socio-political topics such as Women's Rights, Feminism, Communism and Religion during the post-war era, with the major season plot-lines focusing on major violent political organisations of the time such as the IRA, the Russians and the Italian Mob.
We are given an accurate large scale reproduction of Industrial Birmingham and a truthful depiction of life at home and the workplace, including the effects of drug-use and PTSD.

The show also comments on certain mind-sets of the period specifically those towards women, poc, jews and the LGBTQ+ community. The fact they are brought up in the dialogue every now and then proves the writers aren't simply glossing over these discriminating issues, they continuously remind us that they impact the characters through-out their whole lives and not just for an episode or two.

This focus on Historical events and key individuals makes Peaky Blinders all the more fascinating as we go deeper into the story-line.

3. Cinematography and visual story-telling

One of the reasons why I love Peaky Blinders so much is because of how they approach visual story-telling. Their use of insert shots and no-dialogue sequences speaks volumes: a lot of value is given to little moments which are so often brushed aside in other productions, big and small. A bath scene, a cigarette break, getting dressed, looking out of a window, staring into space, writing a letter, looking at a photograph, walking down the street... All these moments help establish the characters and play a part in the story. They allow for breathing space and enable each scene to flow seamlessly into the next, pulling the audience deeper in as there is no need to question an editing mistake or a plot-hole. It gives us the sense that these are real characters who do mundane things which are not directly connected to the central plot of the episode; these small everyday actions are part of their life. It makes it more believable.

There are heavy-dialogue scenes in the show but you can always expect several artistic sequences which place Peaky Blinders in the high-end television spectrum. Every episode is like a film. The quality of the production is reflected in these beautifully edited sequences, whether it's a long tracking shot, a perfectly symmetrical establishing shot or a close-up insert- it's all very aesthetically pleasing.


I could go on and on about this production. We could dive in to the themes of each season or the motifs in each episode. We could do character studies, relationship analysis. We could discuss all the little Historical and Political elements and how they impact each character, we could even do a step-by-step analysis of the characters' costumes through the timeline - proof once more of the amount of work which goes into Peaky Blinders.

Unfortunately we now have to wait until 2019 for season 5, but taking into account how good season 4 was (and the iMDB ratings) I think it's safe to say that it'll worth the wait.

Have you watched Peaky Blinders? What are your hopes for season 5? Who are your favourite characters?

Holly x

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