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He Said, She Said Review Site

Peaky Blinders: Season 1

What She said:

She

Never heard of Peaky Blinders?  You’re definitely not alone, especially if you live over in the States like me.  This BBC Two series—that’s right, not even BBC One—tells the story of a gangster family living in Birmingham, England, in the wake of World War I.  It’s fascinating, has fantastic production value, and outstanding performances from great crop of actors.

The show chronicles the Peaky Blinders, an apparently epic criminal gang that was rampant in Birmingham in the late 19th century and early 20th century.  They were known for sewing razor blades into the front of their hats, which they would then brandish as weapons at the drop of a dime.  Scary folks, they were, and if Peaky Blinders is at all accurate in its portrayal of them, they were also absolutely nuts. 

Peaky Blinders: Season 1

Anyway, the show focuses on one family in particular, the Shelbys.  They are movers and shakers in the world of the Peaky Blinders, with one brother, Tommy, essentially running the show.  He’s a force to be reckoned with, and can be extremely violent.  It is indicated that much of his instability emerged after he served in World War I, where he stood out as a hero.  Tommy is making a new life for himself, his brothers, Arthur and John, and his Aunt Polly. 

The main story arch of Series 1 is that a large weapons cache destined for Libya has gone missing and that police suspect the Peaky Blinders are behind hit.  Winston Churchill himself has sent Chief Inspector Chester Campbell, a detective in the Royal Irish Constabulary, to Birmingham to try to settle developing unrest and find the stolen arms.  Chief Inspector Campbell has quite a sterling reputation and the ego to go along with it, and so he’s expecting nothing less than success in his pursuits.  But the Shelbys give him trouble and he quickly becomes Tommy and crew’s greatest foe.

Peaky Blinders: Season 1

However, Chief Inspector Campbell has a tactic up his sleeve that Tommy doesn’t see coming—a woman on the inside.  The mysterious Grace Burgess appears at a local bar that the Shelbys frequent and begs for a job.  She establishes herself as “just one of the locals” and goes to work trying to unravel the Shelbys and find out where the weapons are.  However, things get complicated.  The beautiful Grace catches Tommy’s eye, and she actually is effective in softening him a little.  And Grace finds it difficult to resist Tommy’s charm.  I sense she also likes that taste of power she’s exposed to. 

So, to sum things up: Chief Inspector Campbell hates Tommy; Tommy hates Chief Inspector Campbell; Tommy likes Grace; Grace likes Tommy but is betraying him; and Chief Inspector Campbell likes Grace too.  Grace seems to admire Chief Inspector Campbell for his excellence in the field, but I get the impression she also thinks he’s a pervy old man. 

Peaky Blinders: Season 1

And that’s about all you need to know.  Actually, there are subplots and fighting amongst rival gangs, but that fluctuates from episode to episode.  I should, however, mention that this is only a six episode series, which is not all that uncommon for a British show.  They call seasons “series,” and they’re often quite abbreviated—almost like made-for-TV movies.  Because of the first series’ brevity, you can expect things to move pretty swiftly, so make sure you pay attention for important details.

I’m going to skip over the part where I talk about the things I didn’t like, because I cannot really think of any.  So here’s what I liked.  The acting on this show is phenomenal.  Cillian Murphy plays Tommy Shelby and Sam Neill is his nemesis Chief Inspector Chester Campbell.  They’re both excellent in their roles.  Murphy makes Tommy an extremely complex character—there are pangs of compassion, and yet he’s also quite brutal and destructive.  And Neill makes Chief Inspector Campbell quite unlikable, even as a supposed “good guy.”  The other Shelby brothers played by Paul Anderson and Joe Cole are also good.  There’s actually also a Shelby sister, Ada, who is played by Sophie Rundle.  Although she’s not imperative to the broader story of Series 1, she’s surprisingly powerful in what she brings to the show.  Helen McCrory plays Aunt Polly.  The character has the persona of a strong, independent female, but she’s also ruthless, just like the rest of the Shelbys.  She’s definitely one of them, despite the fact she’s not their actual parent.  Finally, Annabelle Wallis plays Grace Burgess, and I also found her to be excellent in her role.  She’s rational and driven, and yet becomes extremely divided in what she stands for.

The cinematography on this show is phenomenal.  It’s dark and moody, which helps to add a layer to the drama of each scene.  It truly feels like a gangster chronicle.  One interesting dynamic is the use of modern music in a period show.  The director also embraces some slow motion camera tactics and stylized fight scenes to give an air of the modern to the show.  It’s kind of odd but incredibly fun and effective.  It’s just another tactic in telling the story, and I give them credit for going that direction and really embracing it.  I think the look and feel of the show turned out great.

Soup to nuts, I was pleased with Series 1 of Peaky Blinders.  It has loads of drama and gore, yet also infuses a historical perspective.  All good stuff in my books.

Thumbs up

Peaky Blinders: Season 1

What He said:

He

Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) has big plans. He has recently convinced his brother Arthur (Paul Anderson) to allow him to take over as leader of the family’s criminal empire; which is bookmaking. Arthur reluctantly agrees. He wants to call the shots, but he knows Tommy has better business acumen.

Peaky Blinders: Season 1

For example, Tommy is very good at fixing the odds in horse racing. He is not afraid to take a loss. He will give odds the benefit those making the betters, sucker them into betting on the same horse for multiple races, then sweep the rug out from under them all when the horse finally loses. Arthur simply isn’t intelligent to pull something like that off.

That isn’t the only thing Tommy has up his sleeve either. First, he happens to come across a weapons cache that was supposed to be delivered to military forces in Libya. The Peaky Blinders (the name of his family’s gang) did steal them, but they decided to keep them when they accidentally stumble across them. Tommy doesn’t know what he’s going to do with them to be frank, he just knows that they have value, and he has a big enough ego to think he can sell them without anybody noticing. He did not consult with the rest of his family about this.

The other thing Tommy is planning on doing is partnering with, and possibly taking over the business enterprises, with Billy Kimber. Mr. Kimber has a license to operate for horse racing and Tommy thinks the two should work together. He says they can offer protection, Kimber’s business had trouble with robberies, and also convinces him that he can make him more money with the way he cooks the books.

Peaky Blinders: Season 1

The missing guns get the attention of the government, so Winston Churchill himself (Richard McCabe) sends a special investigator to find out where they went. Chief Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill) has a reputation for getting things done. Common criminals, gang violence, and even the IRA – Inspector Campbell has seen it all. He always comes out on top too.

Campbell suspects the Peaky Blinders of stealing the weapons and has a secret weapon to help him determine whether his suspicious are true or not. Grace Burgess (Annabell Wallis) is a secret agent posing as a bartender in a place the Peaky Blinders frequent. She is supposed to get to know them and feed information back to Campbell. Graces begins to develop feelings for Tommy, but feels obligated to do her duty and deliver intel to Campbell. Campbell is determined to prove Tommy and the Peaky Blinders are behind the theft. He also has feelings for Grace.

Things are complicated and that’s just the drama between those three. The Shelby family itself has a lot of drama. Tommy calls the shots, but often butts heads with his Aunt Polly, who serves as a sort of advisor to the family. Polly (Helen McCrory) is tough as nails. She actually ran the family while all the oldest men were off in France during WWI. She has no official power, but her opinion is very respected. She also does whatever she wants whenever she wants, regardless of what Tommy says. There’s also a sister, Ada, who is dating local troublemaker, Freddie Thorne. Freddie (Iddo Goldberg) is a member of the local communist party and often attracts the attention of the police, which is something Tommy wants to avoid. Ava (Sophie Rundle) is a typical Shelby. She does whatever she pleases, regardless of how her family feels about Freddie. I haven’t even begun to cover all the local problems they have. Billy Kimber’s crew isn’t the only gang the Shelby’s have issues with.

Do you know yhe She had the nerve to watch this without me? That’s why this review is so far after hers – she watched it on her own! I didn’t even know she was watching it. I just happened to walk in on her watching it and asked what it is. She assumed that because it was a period piece, it’s not by the way, it’s a historical drama, I wouldn’t like it.  Once she told me what it was about, I was appalled she assumed I wouldn’t be interested.

Peaky Blinders: Season 1

She couldn’t be more wrong if she tried. I thought this show was awesome! It is a fantastic mix of new and old. It takes place in the early 1900s, so it’s by no mean modern, but it uses many modern techniques in its presentation. This show has awesome scenery, very authentic looking haircuts, and costumes, but uses some highly stylized filming methods. It looks very authentic, but not 100% representative of the era. It’s got a very stylish look and feel. The use modern music, mixed with an original score that is appropriate for the era. They  use slow motion and some other things that don’t necessary seem appropriate with for this era, but works wonderfully. Sometimes blending different styles comes off as the definition of trying too hard, but it works very well here.

Cillian Murphy is excellent as Tommy. I wouldn’t say he’s a likeable guy, but he’s got a lot of layers, which makes him a little more sympathetic than others. Tommy is suffering from what is very likely PTSD as a result of his time in the war. He hides it well, but there are times he can’t control it. He cares about his family very much, but often oversteps his bounds and does what is best for them “for the sake of the family”, which can go either way. I really do believe he wants the best for his loved ones, but he also simply wants to be the one in charge. He’s got an ego on him.

Helen McCrory is arguably the next biggest standout. Polly is one hard ass lady. She takes pride in the fact that she controlled the family business while Tommy was in the war. She advises him, but also doesn’t hesitate to lecture him, or even slap him in the face, if she thinks he’s out of line. She will also go above his head when she feels the decisions he makes about others’ lives is off-base.

I said arguably, because Annabelle Wallis gives a very strong performance as Grace. Grace is very loyal to the cause, but as typical with many people who do undercover work, she begins to get caught up in the lifestyle. It’s mostly about Tommy though. He’s violent, but she finds him to be charming.

That’s not to say the rest of the cast isn’t good, because they are. Sam Neill is a force to be reckoned with. Inspector Campbell is not someone you want to mess with. He is supposed to be the good guy, and I generally think the character is, but he’s not afraid to play dirty and there are times you question his motives. Paul Anderson and Joe Cole are great as Arthur and John Shelby. They are basically Tommy’s henchmen, but their characters are given good stories and depth. They are tough guys, but you definitely get to know a little bit about them. They are also the kind of guys who are good at making you hate them. They are mean, violent, and have faces you simply hate.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This review was written for your reading pleasure on December 8, 2012.