As many of the main characters of BBC import and newly acquired Netflix series Peaky Blinders walk, ride and shoot their way through the streets of Birmingham they are watched by seemingly almost everyone. In many ways the gangsters of post-World War I England had a celebrity-like aura around them. What makes that all the more interesting is that Peaky Blinders is another show to add to the group of shows of the past few years that have had celebrity actors transition to the small screen. With names like Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill as well as the impending arrival of Tom Hardy (he has signed onto season two of the series, which will premiere on Netflix at an unannounced date in November), Peaky Blinders has a star-studded cast that becomes the series’ biggest strength. The series may have its issues but a cast like this is able to overcome most of them.
Peaky Blinders is about the real life rise to power of the Peaky Blinders gang from Birmingham when Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) takes over leadership after the power vacuum left by World War I. The series is run by Stephen Knight, who is having a big year after directing and writing the Tom Hardy vehicle, Locke. Considering how original, tense and playful Locke is you couldn’t help but expect something more from the storyline of this series. Instead the first season of Peaky Blinders plays out just like many gangster films and shows we have seen before. Knight knows how to set up a cliffhanger or a twist but most of the staying power of this series comes from elsewhere.
Sometimes that comes from the directing and visuals, which do admittedly take a little time to get used to. Otto Bathurst’s style constantly transitions from the beautiful to the overly done, but there is a lot of consistency in the work of Tom Harper (who directs the season’s final three episodes). However, most of the time the show’s staying power comes from its cast. Whether it’s the mesmerizing performance from Cillian Murphy or Sam Neill being villainous and using a wonderful accent to boot or even a seemingly minor but memorable performance from Sophie Rundle as the rebellious younger sister of Cillian Murphy’s character there’s a lot to like in this ensemble.
Season one of Peaky Blinders provides a solid if unmemorable base that could prove to be quite beneficial to later seasons especially considering the show seems to be living up to its promise of bringing celebrity culture (both in terms of story and in terms of the actors being employed by this series) to your television screen.