Plot: Set in 1921, The Peaky Blinders are growing their power as the leading gang controlling sports bettings, smugglings and other crimes, in Birmingham and the northern part of England. However, their tranquility is broken by an explosion in their pub (The Garrison) whilst they are attending Freddie Thorne’s funeral who has passed away due to the Spanish Flu.
Tommy soon learns that the IRA is behind the bombing and that Campbell, his nemesis from two years ago and now a major for the British Police, is back in Birmingham more ruthless and violent than before.
The leader of the Peaky Blinders despite their local success has had his mind set on taking over the crime business in London. After encountering some initial reluctance from some of his family members, he, along with his brothers Arthur and John, head south and strike up a bloody rivalry with the Sabinis, an italian british criminal gang.
To ensure their chances against the Sabinis, Tommy initiates an alliance with the head of the Jewish mobsters (Alfie Solommons). After an initial reluctance from Alfie, he does recognise Tommy’s valour, and intelligence and agrees to partner up together.
When Tommy learns that his aunt Polly is desperately searching for her estranged children, he helps her find them. Sadly her daughter is dead, but her son Michael is alive and living with a foster family. Michael later joins the Peaky Blinders gang.
In his quest to climb the social ladder, Tommy is not only content with taking over London. He also invests in a racehorse and hires May Carleton, a high class socialite, expert in horses with whom he begins a romantic affair.
Back in Birmingham, Tommy has to deal with his IRA handlers and a desperately ruthless Campbell. He soon learns that the IRA and Campbell are in fact colluding with the approval of Winston Churchill.
Still mourning after Grace and her betrayal, he tracks her down in London and briefly rekindles their romance. They spend a night together, and she ends up pregnant with her child.
Soon it seems Tommy’s ambition for power got the better of him and his empire starts to crumble. He is betrayed by Alfie and loses his control in London. His brother Arthur is jailed and some of his key allies are murdered. Campbell is hell-bent on having his revenge on him and openly operating outside the law.
Winston Churchill who has been observing both Tommy and Campbell from a distance has noticed more value and vision in the Peaky gangster. Unbeknownst to the devious Campbell, Churchill is fully aware of his treachery and orders him to be killed by a mole he has in the IRA and has Tommy’s life spared.
Critique: Season 2 displays the growing power of the Shelby clan. One major theme in the show is the reluctance to accept newcomers into the circle of trust by established groups.
May Clareton is initially doubtful of Tommy Shelby who tries to enter an elitist circle of socialites and businessmen due to his poor social skills owing to his Romani upbringing.
Alfie is openly hostile to the idea of teaming up with the Peaky Blinders at first since in his mind, they are backwards gypsy thugs from the north. Even after partnering up with them, he briefly betrays them remorselessly.
Michael, Polly’s long lost son is welcome to the family circle but has to work very hard to be fully accepted into the Peaky Blinders organisation.
Another recurrent theme in Season 2 is the beginning of Tommy standing out further from his brothers and the rest of the family. Whilst the Shelbys are basking in their successes and content with their newly acquired riches, he is dissatisfied and constantly planning their next move to increase their power.
Polly rejects Esme’s help and support when trying to track her estranged children since that will seem like a sign of weakness to the point of threatening to “cut her” if she mentioned her situation to anyone.
Tommy keeps a close eye on his older brother Arthur and openly berates him for not having his addiction to cocaine under control fearing it could cost them dearly. Whilst being summoned after their pub is bombed by terrorists, he decides to go alone to protect his family.
Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy): Tommy is fully established and recognised as the leader of the Peaky Blinders by 1921. Whilst the rest of the family is getting used to the wealth they are acquiring, he being a nonconformist, is constantly planning two steps ahead.
Tommy’s ambition knows no limits and to everyone’s surprise he announces his plans to expand the family business to London. Upon arrival in the capital, he openly defies the Sabinis, the Italian criminal organisation.
He later approaches their local rivals, the Solomons, with the offer to partner up and for a lucrative contraband business of liquor to the United States, (under the Laws of Prohibition during this time).
Tommy also longs to be accepted by those in power and this includes the upper class. He purchases a race horse at an auction filled with wealthy businessmen and socialites. He invests in real estate and purchases expensive houses in exclusive neighbourhoods for his aunt Polly and sister Ada.
His archrival from 2 years ago, Campbell is back in Birmingham. He is now a major of the British Police and hellbent on destroying Tommy. Both men are on a temporary truce whilst Tommy is being handled by the IRA to commit murders on their behalf.
Whilst he is managing life threatening situations with the Irish terrorists and the more menacing major, Tommy’s power in London starts to grow. Yet he still mourns after the lost love of Grace. Thanks to his contacts in the alcohol smuggling business, he learns she is back in London for a visit with her recently wed husband.
Both Tommy and Grace spend the night together in London and she ends up being pregnant with his child, something which changes his view on life. Yet he still has to endure the tightening noose the IRA and a treacherous Campbell have tied around his neck and Solomon’s betrayal in London.
Polly Gray (Helen McCrory): Polly, one of the undisputed leaders in the Shelbys clan continues to command the gang from her position as treasurer and Tommy’s confidante. Yet, not all is good for her.
Polly is undergoing a profound crisis longing for her estranged children. Social services took them away from her years ago whilst she was a young single mother with alcohol problems. In her desperation she attends a psychic. She desperately tries to hide this episode since it can be viewed as a sign of weakness outside of their clan.
Tommy decides to help her find her children. Sadly, her daughter died some years back,but her son Michael is alive. Frustratingly, she cannot approach him legally. Tommy however can do so and connects with Michael which reunites mother and son.
Polly takes this as a personal redemption and joyfully takes Michael back in her life. She proves to be a loving and protective mother who requests Tommy to accept him in the Shelby organisation as an accountant. She wants him to stay within the safety net of the legal side of the business, never to venture into their criminal operations.
Polly is shocked when her beloved Michael is illegally imprisoned by Major Campbell. She urges the major to free him since he is a civilian and has not committed any crime. Campbell, in his psychotic hatred for Tommy agrees to free MIchael only if Polly agrees to have sex with him. She is so desperate to free her son, she acquiesces and is raped by Campbell in the prison itself.
Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson): Arthur has definitely ceded the leadership position of the Peaky Blinders to his younger brother Tommy. He has accepted his limitations as a leader and strategic thinker and has to confirm with his role as the muscle in the organisation.
Arthur conforms to this situation fairly well most of the time, but he does harbour some resentment deep inside his psyche. One day, during a training session at a gym, he suffers a mental blackout and savagely punches his training partner to death.
It is later revealed that these episodes of violence have happened before and Arthur medicates himself to keep it under control. When Tommy learns this, he believes the medication might soften Arthur too much for the vicious violence that awaits them in London and throws the medicines away.
Arthur is sent to London by Tommy to control all operations from there. He is instantly enamoured with the gangster lifestyle in the capital and starts using cocaine heavily and hiring prostitutes regularly. Tommy notices this and begins to worry whether his older brother is mentailly fit for such an important task.
John Shelby (Joe Cole): John is maturing as one of the Shelby brothers. He is happily married to Esme and both begin to envision a simpler life outside organised crime with a house in the country. When Tommy learns of this, he takes John down with him and Arthur to offer him a taste of a top gangster life could offer him to encourage him to be by his side when their operations start to grow.
An initially reluctant John, quickly changes his mind when he enters a swing club in London owned by the Sabinis. The loud music, alcohol, freedom, and debauchery he witnesses along with the power they can obtain piques his curiosity and stays by his brother’s side.
John Shelby starts to regain his ruthlessness. He burns down a civilian pub with Arthur simply because their cousin Michael and this friend Isiah were assaulted there. He is sent to London to plant a bomb at a politician’s house (albeit to increase his security rather than kill him).
John is instrumental in the Shelby’s revenge on the Sabinis. He joins Tommy in London whilst they free Arthur from prison and participates in their comeback and collects all the betting licenses from the Sabinis to burn them becoming the only authorised licensées for horse bettings.
Michael Gray (Finn Cole): Michael is an intelligent and well-mannered 17-year old. He is Polly’s estranged son who was taken away from her by social services when he was merely an infant.
Michael vaguely remembers his origins. He lives a comfortable and honest life in a foster family where he is loved and taken care of. Nevertheless, when Tommy shows up at his doorstep, an inner spark ignites inside him. He loves his adoptive mother but shortly after shows up at his Polly’s doorstep.
Michael longs to be accepted by the Peaky Blinders, not just as an accountant but to his mother’s dismay, to join them in the action of their illegal activities. Slowly he earns Tommy’s respect and the approval of his cousins and moves up in the organisation.
Alfie Solommons (Tom Hardy): Alfie Solommons is one of the most charismatic antiheroes in the story. Alfie runs a bakery which serves a front for an illegal distillery in London. He is the leader of the Jewish mob in the capital and arch-rival of the Sabinis.
Alfie is witty, funny, ruthless and has no scruples when it comes to setting up alliances. He is initially hostile in an adamant way to partner up with Tommy Shelby , despite both regarding Sabini as an enemy, Nevertheless, he trusts him and begins to collaborate together only to betray the Shelbys after a peace offering from their joint enemy.
Eventually Alfie sees Tommy Shelby for the unbeatable force of nature he really is in a memorable scene where the Peaky Blinders leader bluffs him into believing he has sneaked in a hand grenade into the distillery with him during a meeting. Alfie corrects his previous mistake and re-joins Tommy’s alliance.
Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis): Grace comes back in Tommy’s life halfway throughout the story. It is revealed she fled to New York to start her life over when she betrayed Tommy. She has met a decent wealthy man and both marry. However they are unable to conceive a child and have come to London to consult with a fertility specialist.
Tommy learns of her temporary visit in London and both agree to meet up. Predictably, their passion resurfaces and they end up sleeping together after which she ends up pregnant with his child.
May Carleton (Charlotte Riley): May is a well educated race horse trainer. A wealthy socialite, she belongs to the British high class in the early 1920’s. She is proficient and successful at what she does and well esteemed.
May instantly feels a connection and attraction for Tommy’s rogue like behaviour when they meet during a horse auction. She immediately sees through him. She recognises a thug who refuses his social class and upbringing limit him in any fashion. She also sees a sensitive man with deep feelings and both begin a romantic relationship.
Ada Shelby (Sophie Rundle): Ada is now a young widow and single mother of an infant child (named Karl). She rejects her family’s ill-earned money but nevertheless accepts living in an expensive house purchased to her by Tommy in one of London’s most exclusive neighbourhoods.
Still a die-hard communist, she accepts lodging a homosexual socialist in her home which Tommy uses later to his advantage. Gradually, she softens up towards her brother and their relationship starts healing.