Peaky Blinders review: Cillian Murphy & Helen McCrory shine in the return of this stylish gangster saga (Spoilers)

by Matt D
Peaky Blinders BBC2


When Peaky Blinders first aired last year I was surprised to learn that the BBC Two gangster drama wasn’t being co-produced with an American network. I was primarily shocked as the style of Steven Knight’s Birmingham-based saga was so striking that I failed to believe that it had been solely produced by the BBC. Knight’s drama, about the titular Birmingham gang who wore razor blades under their caps, found critical success even if it only maintained a cult audience by the time it ended. Tonight Peaky Blinders returns with the Shelby family witnessing the approach of a new decade and the prospect of expanding their criminal empire.

For a drama that has often kept me on the edge of my seat, Peaky Blinders definitely started with a bang as the shooting of a lead character was soon followed up by an incredibly well-directed set piece which ended in the bombing of the Shelby’s pub. In fact Tommy and company had a lot to deal with in this first episode not least of which was the aforementioned bomb that got the Shelbys worried about their proposed expansion to London. However Tommy later defines the explosion as ‘an Irish matter’ which he keeps from the rest of the family but this may be a mistake as we soon learn who is pulling the strings. The paranoia surrounding the explosion means that the Shelbys are struggling to trust one another with some feeling anxious about the proposed move to London. John is struggling to tow the line whilst a now widowed Ada is shunning the family completely as she tries to start a new life in London. When the rest of the Shelbys rock up in the capital it’s not long before we get to see another of Peaky Blinders brilliantly choreographed fight scenes which ends with the Blinders on top. Despite seemingly wining a small battle, it appears that the Peaky Blinders may not win the war at all as a shocking final sequence left me with my jaw on the floor.

Peaky Blinders

Once again I found Peaky Blinders to be an incredibly enthralling watch partly due to the incredible visual style which was one of the drama’s best features during its first run. Director Colm McCarthy expertly constructs several memorable set pieces which stick in the mind long after the final credits have rolled. The opening sequence which ends with the explosion at the Shelby pub perfectly hints at what’s to come as we follow two seemingly innocent woman pushing prams who in actuality are the perpetrators of the incident. Similarly shocking is Tommy’s murder of a blacksmith which is brilliantly lit as we see his corpse lying next to the fire where he carries out his work. The largest set piece of the episode though is left to the Shelby brothers arrive in London with their presence in a club not being welcomed by certain members of the Southern gangs. This sequence takes up several minutes of the episode and is a joy to watch with every punch and kick being expertly delivered. Even when the camera isn’t filming one of these sequences; the cinematography is still excellent as it takes us through the Birmingham underworld that is operated by the Shelbys. Furthermore the period detail is excellent with the opulent interior of the London club exemplifying the sort of style that the Shelbys would’ve seen in the 1920s. Each of the characters costumes is similarly well-stylised with Aunt Poll’s outfits being particularly fantastic throughout tonight’s instalment.

One of my main issues with series one of Peaky Blinders was the fact that, in between each set piece, there was very little going on. Although I rather enjoyed the first episode, and some elements of the story, my mind started to wander during other parts of the story. Judging from tonight’s offering, I think that series two of Peaky Blinders has a lot more going on and the intertwining narrative looks a lot more complex than it was before. With some old enemies still causing trouble for the Shelbys, it appears as if their expansion into London is being met with new opposition. This new opposition manifests itself in the form of Sabini, an Italian-born gangster who operates in the South and doesn’t take too kindly to Tommy’s presence on his patch. Sabini’s arrival into the dramais brilliantly realised by Knight and it was his debut on the screen which added a whole new dimension to the show. As well as Tommy’s many problems, series two also appears to be giving Aunt Poll more to do as she starts to worry about the two children she gave up years ago. In another brilliantly stylised scene; we see Poll attend a seance as she attempts to contact her daughter who she believes has passed away. This subplot provided the emotional core of episode one as the usually stoic Poll broke down in tears after being given a message she didn’t want to hear.

Cillian Murphy

Part of this reason that this scene was so powerful was due to the fantastic performance given by Helen McCrory as the feared patriarch of the Shelby clan. Aunt Poll was one of the stand outs of the first series and it appears as if Knight realises that McCrory has brought her to life beautifully. McCrory is able to make Poll feel like such a powerful presence that she doesn’t even need to say anything to gain the respect of the rest of her family. In the role of Tommy, the brilliant Cillian Murphy is at his brooding best once again as his character goes about trying to expand the family business. Murphy’s greatest skill is in conveying the fact that Tommy could attack at any moment as he goes from calm to killer in a matter of seconds. Joining the cast tonight was Noah Taylor, who made an instant impression as the callous Sabini. Anybody who’s seen Game of Thrones knows how terrifying Taylor can make a character and I’m just hoping that Sabini sticks around for the duration of the series.

Although tonight’s Peaky Blinders still wasn’t as perfectly paced as I would’ve liked it to be there was still enough going on to hold my attention over the hour. Steven Knight’s drama has retained its stylish flourishes that made it so engaging the first time round while the cast are superb once again. Peaky Blinders’ only weak spot is in the pace of its storytelling which at least looks to have improved this time round. If that improvement can be maintained throughout the rest of the series then this second helping of Peaky Blinders may well be even better than it was during its first outing.

What did you think to the return of Peaky Blinders? Are you glad it’s back?

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