Peaky Blinders is a successfully undertaken TV Series depicting a violent social fairytale amidst two wars in a crooked Birmingham.
On the muddy streets of a working class neighborhood, a sharp-eyed man is sitting astride a majestic black stallion. People move aside, hiding, hiding, crouching as he passes by.
Children admire him, the crowd leans, the police greet him. He’s wearing a grey cap with two razor blades sewn in the peak. Deadly.
Thomas “Tommy” Shelby (Cillian Murphy) is the lead of Peaky Blinders. This show is a brutal and elegant immersion into Birmingham gangsters’ lives in the twenties, where illegal horserace betting was common practice. It’s a fiction deeply rooted in a violent social and historical reality: the heart of industrial England where broken men were striving to get through life just after surviving the trenches.
Steven Knight, creator of the show, drew this story from his childhood memories. He grew up in poor Birmingham neighborhoods where his parents rubbed shoulders with Peaky Blinders. “Those men were wandering spruced-up despite the dirty streets, he said, it was their way of protecting themselves, ignoring the traumatic experience of the First World War.” Peaky Blinders begins in 1929, depicting the slow rise of the Shelby family and its struggle against other gangs and the self-assured inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill) freshly arrived from Belfast, ready to clean the city up. A Mafiosi story in which “the central question, still subsiding in 21st Century Great Britain: Could we make it, get out of an underprivileged background?” That’s the question Steve Knight explores.
Bloody fights, manipulations, lies; Peaky Blinders mixes historical reflection, thriller, tragedy and romance. It features a rich narrative symbolized by Tommy Shelby’s evolution: “A block of ice, haunted by war, indifferent to emotions who is going to melt and become human again,” says Steven Knight. It’s his encounter with an audacious waitress, the beautiful and mysterious Grace (Annabelle Wallis), a light in the darkness, which will allow this transformation. Her entrance under flakes of ash, in a spotless dress among filth, reminds us of the Beauty’s walk to the Beast’s castle. “Peaky Blinders is a kind of fairy tale,” his creator admits. Its plot comes from stories my parents told me when I was a kid. From a child’s vision, this epic criminal reality becomes mythological. Everything is bigger, more impressive and more beautiful.”
It’s this same amazement, this childlike ability of seeing magic everywhere that explains this embellishment.
“In Peaky Blinders, even something considered ugly could be magnified, he explains, a soot covered factory dazzles or becomes mysterious in plumes of smoke.”
The show takes care with every shot, works wonders with the light, multiplies original framings, beautifies its characters, imposing itself as the televisual masterpiece of the past years in every new scene. The anachronic soundtrack backing the Mafiosi (Nick Cave, Tom Waits, White Stripes or P.J Harvey) works wonders with the classy yet brutal ambiance of the show. A daring soundtrack, just like the show in which most firm modern stances and historical facts perfectly match a credible and fictional story.
Airing March 12 on Arte.