Peaky Blinders review – Tommy Shelby’s back where we want him to be: in all kinds of trouble | Television

man walks into a bar. Herringbone cap, baby face, topcoat flapping in silhouette, weaponry secreted in case things turn sour. Which they always do. “Glass of water, please,” he says. The French stereotypes at table four give him the evils. Nobody orders soft drinks in these parts if they know what’s good for them. You could cut the tension with a – well, a razor blade concealed in the brim of your cap would do the job.

It’s 1933, in a remote outpost of la Francophonie called Miquelon Island, which, as you know, is just off the coast of Newfoundland, and, therefore, beyond Canadian and American jurisdictions. For years, these Gallic stereotypes have been ferrying bootleg whiskey to Boston. But, now, prohibition is ending and their business model is collapsing.

Enter our hero, Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), with a proposal for the locals. He places his business card on the bar. It reads: “Thomas Shelby Company Limited. ImporterExporter. Birmingham Boston San Francisco Shanghai.” It’s the last of those cities that is most relevant. The small-time Small Heath gangster has gone big, buying up a shipment of Chinese opium, and he plans to use French supply lines hitherto used for illicit hooch to flood the US with dope. If south Boston gang boss Jack Nelson, who is also the father-in-law of his familial nemesis Michael, won’t grasp this golden opportunity, Tommy will take his proposition to the Jews and Italians of east Boston – thus precipitating, most likely , internecine infelicity by episode two.

Such is the setup of the final series of Peaky Blinders (BBC One), the show that has become, balti curries notwithstanding, Birmingham’s leading export product. Given that the city’s most distinctive contributions to world culture (Black Sabbath, Steel Pulse, Cadbury chocolate, HP sauce and Jack Grealish’s calves) have broken up or sold themselves to foreign capital, every right-thinking Brummie is behind the looming Peaky movie that will , fingers crossed, extend the franchise.

But what’s most significant about Peaky Blinders is not so much its narrative arc or its bump to the regional economy as its sartorial reproof to our disgusting era. We live in a time, after all, in which people have to be told not to turn up to Sainsbury’s in their jimjams. What a pleasure it is to see Beau Brummies strut their heteronormative, masculinist stuff. I’ve mentioned Tommy Shelby’s peerless silhouette, but you could cite Arthur Shelby who, even when off his nut on opiates, is quite the dandy, or Michael Shelby, who, though in Stateside chokey, wears collar and tie under his prison duds. Instead of Birmingham’s custom civic self-laceration, writer Steven Knight has given the city swagger. I doff my cap.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Gina Gray in Peaky Blinders
Swaggering… Anya Taylor-Joy as Gina Gray in Peaky Blinders. Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd

More swaggering yet is Anya Taylor-Joy as Michael’s spouse Gina. There’s a moment in this series opener in which Joy Division’s Disorder starts up on the soundtrack like a beautiful anachronism, and she sashays down a corridor, heels clacking in time to Hooky’s bassline. Moments later, we see her busting jazz moves to a dance band on the radiogram, with the same aplomb she gave us when cutting a rug to Cilla Black in Last Night in Soho.

What we are witnessing here is the succession of the title of Peaky’s Queen of Swagger from Helen McCrory’s Aunt Polly to Taylor-Joy’s Gina Gray. McCrory’s untimely death last year created a problem for Steven Knight. How do you write out the family matriarch? Here, Aunt Polly’s corpse lies inside a burning Gypsy caravan while the Shelby men stand hatless. It’s Birmingham’s equivalent of a Viking funeral and, given her Romany blood, what Polly would have wanted.

But who killed Aunt Polly? A scary woman from the IRA rings Tommy to take responsibility. Shelby’s plan to murder the British fascist Oswald Mosley was for some inscrutable reason contrary to republican interests and, in any case, with Polly out the way, the IRA can do business with Tommy directly.

How ironic, though, that Irish actor Murphy, who starred in Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley as an IRA man battling the Brits in County Cork, here plays an Englishman bent on folly, namely avenging his aunt’s death by taking on the IRA .

But before he can flood Boston with dope or avenge Polly’s death, Tommy has to deal with another crisis back in Birmingham embroiling his daughter Ruby. In this family fixation, Peaky Blinders is like Dynasty, with a twist of the Small Heath-set Man Like Mobeen. Tommy is facing a war on three fronts across two continents. Our Zelig-like hero has always enjoyed having his fingers in too many pies. Indeed, after failing to kill himself at the end of series five, the clothes horse from nowhere is back where we want him to be: in all kinds of trouble.

Leave a Comment