Kish and I have been enjoying the current Golden Age of Television by gradually working our way through the strong crop of binge-worthy shows that are available on Netflix, Amazon, and other sources. It’s amazing how many high-quality productions are out there, just waiting to be discovered. But how do you decide what to watch? We tend to take suggestions from friends — which is how we started on Peaky Blinders. Once we started, we couldn’t stop.
Peaky Blinders tells the story of the Shelby clan, a crime family in England. The show begins in 1919, when the Shelby brothers — haunted and jaded by their nightmarish experience as part of a tunneling crew in World War I — have just returned from the fighting. At that time, the family runs a small-time bookie shop in the poor, rugged neighborhood of Small Heath in Birmingham, a blue-collar manufacturing town in central England. The Shelbys run a razor gang called the Peaky Blinders — so-called because they store razors along on the edges of their peaked cloth caps and use them to cut their foes, who are blinded by the flowing blood. Thanks to the brilliant maneuvering of Tommy Shelby and the efforts of his brothers Arthur (my favorite character) and John, their Aunt Polly, and their Romani relatives, as the show progresses through five seasons the clan thrives, knocks off opposing crime bosses and syndicates, and expands their operations. I won’t spoil the show for those who haven’t watched it, so let’s just say that while the Shelbys achieve great success, the deep underlying troubles and threats always remain and are sometimes realized.
The show draws upon a rich vein of plot lines in post-war England. It deals with the ever-present English class system, the interesting Romani culture and language, criminal turf wars and police corruption, violent gangs like the murderous Billy Boys, the Italian mob and later the American Mafia, and lots of ongoing political turmoil and intrigue thanks to the rise of the Communist Party, the Irish Republican Army, socialism, and ultimately British fascism. The Shelbys somehow manage to navigate through it all. The show’s recreation of the post-war world is totally believable, and the acting is uniformly terrific — from Cillian Murphy as Tommy, whose split personality is always torn between good impulses and extreme criminal conduct, Paul Anderson as Arthur, mentally crippled by the war and subject to fits of deranged, murderous rage, and Helen McCrory as the mystical, level-headed Aunt Polly.
The culture depicted on the show is so powerful and compelling that a viewer has to consciously resist the temptation to adopt the Peaky Blinders way, and start emulating the Shelbys, by saying “eh” or “hmm” at the end of every sentence and turning every declaration into a question, walking in slow motion with arms slightly bowed out from the body, wearing pants at flood height, getting radical bowl haircuts, and reciting the lyrics to In the Bleak Midwinter whenever something bad happens.
Peaky Blinders just completed season 5, and apparently two more seasons are planned. We can’t wait.