Irish, Italian, and Jewish gangster armies contend in Birmingham and London in the 1920s.
[In his Rag Blog column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. Most are available on DVD, Netflix and/or Netflix Instant Streaming, and some episodes are on YouTube.]
Peaky Blinders is an historically-based, fictional crime drama television series starring Cillian Murphy as the boss of the Peaky Blinders gang, operating in Birmingham, England, during the aftermath of World War I. The series was created by Steven Knight (Oscar-nominated for writing the powerful film Dirty Pretty Things) who wrote all the episodes.
Waldman’s film and TV treasures you
may have missed
A dozen episodes aired on Netflix (including the pilot) and six more are now shooting.
This gangster family epic is set in 1919 and centered on the Peaky Blinders gang, so called because they sew razor blades in the peaks of their caps. Their ambitious and highly dangerous boss Tommy Shelby (Murphy, excellent) means to move up in the world, contending against Chinese, Italian, and Jewish mobs, but his gang comes to the attention of Chief Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill), a detective in the Royal Irish Constabulary sent over from Belfast (where he’d been sent to clean up the city of the IRA, gangs, and common criminals). Winston Churchill charged him to suppress disorder and uprising in Birmingham and recover a stolen cache of arms meant to be shipped to Libya.
The second series is set two years after the first and sees the Shelby family expand their empire south and north while maintaining a stronghold in their Birmingham heartland.
The reception for Peaky Blinders was largely positive, with notable praise for its writing, acting, visual style, and stylish cinematography. The show has been celebrated as well for casting an eye over a part of Britain and British history rarely explored on television. Several critics have favorably compared the show to U.S. drama Boardwalk Empire, which shares the same themes and historical context.
Of 36,986 viewers voting at imdb.com, 97.7% gave it thumbs up (highest for any show I’ve reviewed) and 38.7% graded it a perfect 10. It was very strong with all demos (8.4 out of 10 or higher) but slightly strongest with women 18 and younger.
The first two series have won nine major awards including Biarritz International Festival acting awards for Murphy and Helen McCrory (who plays the gang’s powerful matriarch), a UK Royal Television Society “Best Drama Series” honor, and various wins for costume design, music, photography, lighting, and visual effects. Its nine other nominations were for the “Best Drama Series” BAFTA, director, sound, and Murphy and McCrory again.
Sam Neill enlisted the help of Northern Irish actors James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson to help him perfect a Northern Irish accent for the role of Campbell, but in the end, he had to tone the accent down since the series was being shown in the United States.
On October 4, 2015, it was announced that fine Irish thespian Paddy Considine was added to the cast of series 3. He has won 10 acting and writing awards plus 25 nominations for works including Dead Man’s Shoes, Red Riding, My Summer of Love, and In America.
Cillian Murphy won four awards and garnered 32 noms for works including Batman Begins, Red Eye, Inception, and The Wind That Shakes the Barley.
Among Helen McCrory’s 63 film and TV credits are Skyfall, Hugo, three Harry Potter films, and The Queen.
Sam Neill has 120 credits and has earned three awards and 24 noms for works such as Jurassic Park 1 and 3, The Hunt for Red October, Rake, The Tudors, and My Brilliant Career.
In the second series of Peaky Blinders, Tom Hardy (10 awards and 55 noms for works including The Revenant, Legend, Inception, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and Noah Taylor (six awards and 10 noms for Shine, The Year My Voice Broke, and Almost Famous) joined the cast.
The series is violent, but it is also dramatic, exciting, and exceptionally well done. I strongly recommend it for the not-too-squeamish.
Read more of Alan Waldman’s writing on The Rag Blog.
[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine.]