Plot: Set in 1919, in the aftermath of World War I in Birmingham, Peaky Blinders is the name of a gang of vicious street criminals. They are of Romani heritage whose families settled from Ireland in England. The gang make a fortune by fixing horse races. They are vicious, violent and merciless. Based on a real life gang in the 19th Century in the same place, they were known for wearing tailor made suits and sewing razor blades to their caps. As a testimony to their sadistic behaviour whenever confronted by a rival gang they would use these razor blades on their enemies´ eyes blinding them.
Their leader is the second brother: Thomas Shelby, a smart, cunning and ambitious man. His main support in his gang is his aunt Polly, an intelligent and bold woman who is never afraid to speak her mind.
The story begins in the dawn of the robbery of a load of machine guns for the army close to a factory in Small Heath, an industrial part and impoverished burrough of Birmingham where the Peaky Blinders rule. During this time the threat of these weapons falling into the hands of communist rebels or IRA cells in the UK sets the alarm within the British Government. A young Winston Churchill, back then, Minister of Defence, sends inspector Chester Campbell from Belfast to retrieve the stolen guns. Campbell takes agent Grace Burgess who infiltrates Tommy’s gang as an undercover agent working as a barmaid at The Garrison, The Shelby’s favoured pub.
Tommy whilst having to compete with rival gangster Billy Kimber will have to start dealing with Inspector Campbell, a ruthless law enforcer who will not rest until he recovers the stolen guns. He gradually starts to develop feelings for Grace who unbeknownst to him, continuously reports his crimes to the police but is at the same time falling in love with him too.
To make things even harder, the IRA who in those days had cells in working class neighbourhoods in England also started to circle round Tommy and try to coerce thim violently to hand over the guns.
At the same time, Freddie Thorne, one of Tommy’s oldest friends secretly marries his sister (Ada Shelby). Both Freddie and Ada are communists in a time when this ideology was persecuted by British Law under the pretext that they were instigating a rebellion in England similar to the Bolshevik Revolution.
Critique: Peaky Blinders is a bold, aesthetic and gripping TV Show. A superb ensemble of actors is supported by an exquisite costume design, spot on haircuts from the time and exceptional soundtrack with contemporary artists like Nick Cave, Arctic Monkeys and PJ Harvey strangely fitting in amazingly in this period drama. Cillian Murphy is fantastic as Thomas Shelby, the charismatic, smart and ambitious leader of the Peaky Blinders. Elizabeth McRory is inspiring as the intelligent Aunt Polly, the gang’s treasurer and closest to Tommy. Paul Anderson is chilling as the violent Arthur, the oldest brother in the family clan who is initially believed to be the gang leader. The rest of the supporting cast members include a superb Joe Cole who plays John, the third brother, a humorous, sometimes naive and yet vicious younger brother.
The show’s antagonists include a hair rising Sam Neil who embodies Inspector Campbell, a ruthless and violent law enforcer hell bent on defeating crime and Annabelle Wallis, playing undercover Grace Burgess.
Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy): Tommy is the leader of the Peaky Blinders, a gang of street criminals in South Heath, Birmingham. He stands out from the beginning as being the smartest of his brothers. He is reflexive, calculative and ambitious. Despite being well off and the masters of their own kingdom down in Small Heath, Tommy continually pushes for his empire to grow and goes up against rival gangsters like Billy Kimber.
Tommy was awarded honour medals in World War I for his courage fighting for England and the allied forces. Like many young men in this time, Tommy suffers PTSD (Post war trauma) and consumes opium at night to combat anxiety and stress. It is revealed that before the war, Tommy was a happy young lad who loved to laugh and imitate his family members to humour them. Since coming back he is a dark humoured man who seems to have lost his faith in humanity and therefore has no remorse for acting violently against others. It is only once he meets Grace that he starts to fall in love with her and begins to recover his hope for a better world.
Polly Gray (Helen McCrory): Elizabeth Gray (known as Polly or Aunt Poll) is the Treasurer for the Shelby company and Tommy’s main advisor. She is the maternal aunt to Tommy and his siblings. Polly is well known for her strong independent character, strategic thinking and is one of the uncontested leaders of the Peaky Blinders. Like Tommy she is respected and imposes fear on those around her. What sets her apart from her nephew is her more pragmatic nature, being able to ground him when required. She is also the member of her family most in touch with their Romani heritage and uses her vision to predict the future.
Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis) : Grace starts working for the Garrison as a barmaid. She is reserved, smart, inquisitive and gentle. Slowly she begins to bring back some life into a gloomy environment of men traumatised by the war by requesting live music with singing to be held once a week at the pub. She also helps Arthur with ordering the pub’s finances shortly after the Peaky Blinders take over its ownership. Most importantly she brings a new light into Tommy’s life with her gentle soul. Without him realising, she is in reality an undercover agent from the police reporting on his every action. However she starts to fall in love with him when she envisions a gentle and sensitive man hiding behind the arrogant and violent gangster.
Chester Campbell (Sam Neill): Inspector Chester Campbell arrives in Birmingham from Belfast to retrieve the load of guns Tommy has stolen. His fame as a ruthless, no nonsense old fashioned law enforcer precedes him. Yet a flaw in his character also does; and that’s the fact that unlike most men, he did not serve his country in World War I. This fact does not go unnoticed by Tommy or Polly who openly taunt him for it. His subordinates whilst wary of his strong character respect him less for it. He comes across as a violent, God fearing puritain. Throughout the story his dark side is gradually revealed as a devious hypocrite who operates outside of the law whenever he feels like.
Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson): Arthur is the oldest of the Shelby’s siblings. He is initially thought of as the gang leader. He is a brave street criminal whose violence occasionally borders sadistic levels. He is also extremely loyal to his family and does not complain when having to gradually cede control to Tommy who is more suited to lead the family. It is later revealed that after the war he suffered a more severe case of PTSD causing him mental blackouts where he is unable to control his violence. This trauma he carries along with his lack of strategic thinking gradually makes Tommy realise he has to carry the weight of leading their family. His extreme loyalty sometimes also goes against him. When their estranged father, a selfish con artist who had abandoned the family suddenly reappears, Arthur is the only one enthusiastic about the idea. He blindly believes their father is a changed man and is sadly cheated by him.
John Shelby (Joe Cole) John is the third Shelby sibling. He is more easy going and humorous than Tommy and Arthur. Yet when push comes to shove, he proves to be a vicious thug with no remorse for his rivals lives. He is the only brother with children. Unfortunately his wife had passed away shortly before and unable to raise them on his own he naively believes he can propose to Lizzie Stark, a prostitute well known in their neighbourhood to marry him. Upon realising his need for a wife, Tommy arranges a marriage with John and Esme, a wild gypsy girl who needs to settle down from a rival gang in order to reach a truce and strategic alliance between both of them against Billy Kimber.
Ada Shelby (Sophie Rundle): Ada Shelby is the fourth sibling in the Shelby clan. She is a die hard communist and in love with Freddie, one of Tommy’s childhood friends. She is intelligent, curious and independent. Having a rebellious nature, she is the only sibling who openly defies Tommy and is not afraid of him. She falls pregnant with Fredddie’s child and later marries him secretly.
Freddie Thorne (Iddo Goldberg): Freddie is one of Tommy´s oldest friends. He is a hardcore communist and a union leader. Back in 1919 shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution, communism was considered a crime and raids in left wing socialists’ homes were frequent along with police brutality. He served in the same division in World War I as Tommy and over there saved his life. After coming back from the war, Tommy seems distant towards him, yet Freddie never loses hope that their closeness might rekindle again. He is also a gentle soul deeply in love with Ada Shelby with whom he has a child and marries.