Review: Netflix Original Series “Peaky Blinders”

Last month concluded the second season of Peaky Blinders, the acclaimed Netflix Original Series set in 1919 Birmingham, England. The series depicts an infamous street gang, run by the Shelby family, who struggles to survive and prosper in the rapidly changing world of the emergent 20th century. The fictional Shelby family is loosely based on an actual gang known as the Peaky Blinders who derived their name from the use of razor blades they would sew into their hats and wield as a weapon to blind their victims. (For an article on the real Peaky Blinders featured in the UK’s Daily Mail, click here.) Combining stunning period sets with a very stylized cinematic look and a dark and contemporary soundtrack, Peaky Blinders fits in well with the growing popularity of the neo-gothic, late Victorian aesthetic.

The real Birmingham street toughs known as “The Peaky Blinders,” circa 1915.

The show centers on the Shelby gang’s leader, Tommy, a cunning cut-throat played by Cillian Murphy. He is the quintessential man of the twentieth century who avoids political controversy and tries not to take positions of principle in order to achieve his one over-arching goal: profit. With Tommy at the helm, the Shelby gang navigates an assortment of distractions loosely based on the history of the times. His brother battles post-traumatic stress from serving in the trenches during the First World War, his sister weds his best friend who happens to be a notorious communist agitator wanted by the police while Tommy himself is hounded by a ruthless police operative from Belfast played by Sam Neil who reports directly to Winston Churchill. Undaunted, Tommy confronts all of these challenges and more as he battles through working-class Irish enclaves sympathetic to the Irish Republican Army as well as Jewish and Italian gangs from London all to create a more profitable company.

Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) confronts Chief Inspector Campbell (Sam Neill) in Series 2 of Peaky Blinders.

Peaky Blinders is well written and produced, visually engaging and the acting is excellent but the melodrama is sometimes a bit overkill. The use of the contemporary soundtrack is also hit or miss. Choosing Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” for the show’s opening credits is well placed but, throughout the show, other alternative rock songs from the 1990s – excellent songs in and of themselves – seem forced and detract from the emotion of certain scenes. And while the historical accuracy is very low, the entertainment value is high in spite of the clunky combination of hyper-sexualized and incredibly violent action sequences, 1990s rock music and a late Victorian English setting. So, if you’ve got Netflix and you’re in the mood for a litany of dirty deeds and bloody brawls, Peaky Blinders is a satisfying bit of television.

According to BBC 2, Peaky Blinders has been picked up for a third season and will be bringing the show to the U.S.

By SG Staff