On Thursday the 2nd of October, Peaky Blinders returns to BBC 2, so here’s a recap of season one. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now. From hereon in, there be spoilers.
In the first minutes of Peaky Blinders, we're not sure of the genre; China Town, Cillian Murphy on horseback inspiring fear on the streets, and a fortune teller; gloriously shot fear and ominousness. The rider, seemingly satisfied, leaves a horse racing tip as he rides away, illuminating a major plot line of the series a mere 2 minutes in. Then the caption comes up: Birmingham, England 1919.
This is a tale of a northern gangland in the aftermath of the Great War. Industrial, grey and soundtracked by Nick Cave, this is a dangerous place and we are in no doubt that Murphy's character Tommy is a dangerous man that even police officers respect. And amongst this, with a sudden change of musical and visual pace is the freneticism of an illegal bookmakers.
Here we are introduced to the major theme: family. Arthur is the older brother, ostensible leader of the family. Yet even he is afraid of the frightfully clever Tommy. He falls from grace throughout the first season as he realises he'll only ever amount to second in command; he sinks from leader to pub owner.
Aside from Tommy, the main powerhouse of the family is their Aunt Polly, played by the formidable Helen McCrory, a tragic but strong figure that even Tommy respects, she is the only one he ever takes into his confidence. As she frequently points out, while the men of the family were at war, it was the women that ran the family business.
Next amongst the ensemble is Tommy’s former comrade-in-arms Freddie Thorns, a communist union leader and rabble-rouser loved by working men. From their time in the tunnels beneath the French trenches, Tommy owes Freddie his life, and so despite their animosity and contrasting natures, they have a loyalty to each other; a loyalty tested by the fact that Freddie is in love with Tommy’s sister Ada.
The final veteran is the tragic, shell-shocked, doomed Danny Whizzbang. The traumas and horrors of war never left him, and neither do his friends. And yet they all know how doomed he is and serves as a reminder, if we needed it, of how much of themselves they all left behind on Flanders’ fields. They all deal with this trauma in different ways. Tommy, he drinks too much and partakes of opium to cope, to keep the dreams and memories of tunnels and war and horror. The first season, as part of its underlying theme, is to show his redemption, his rebirth into himself, freed from these horrors, and the poisons that he convinces himself he needs.
Together, they are the Peaky Blinders, a Birmingham gang of violence and intimidation; named for the razor blades they sew into their caps, an innocuous yet brutal weapon.
However, trouble is coming, and so it does in the form of Sam Neill's Inspector Campbell on the train to Birmingham. He has come from Belfast, sent by Minister of State Churchill himself, to investigate a munitions theft. His prime suspect: Sergeant Major Thomas Shelby, awarded with a medal for gallantry in the war. Campbell, more preacher than inspector, intends to bring the sweep of a clean brush to Birmingham, to cleanse it of sin. But, most importantly, to find the missing guns, to avoid them falling into the hands of the IRA. Guns that Tommy does indeed possess having stolen them by accident; but he’s not one to miss such an opportunity.
Finally, we meet the barmaid, Grace; sweet of voice and too pretty for The Garrison, the main meeting place of the Peaky Blinders. But she is a turncoat, working for the inspector, and there is nothing she hates more than the IRA. They meet in cultural places, for secrecy; museums, galleries, the theatre; anywhere that there is no chance of meeting a Peaky Blinder.
But meeting the Peaky Blinders is her job and there is no escaping the gravity of Tommy, all dangerous charm and cheekbones. Their blossoming, doomed relationship develops, forming a catalyst for the redemption of them both.
Tommy’s plan is simple, yet cunning; he has no interest in keeping the guns, or giving them to the IRA. They are leverage to keep Inspector Campbell from his doors while he ingratiates himself with slimy pseudo-legal bookmaker Billy Kimber. Not satisfied with henchman status, his plan goes further; by making peace through marriage with a gypsy clan he intends to fully take over. His goal is for his family to become legal bookmakers, to bring wealth and respectability to them all.
And again, what stands in his way is the relentless crusade of Inspector Campbell. Self-loathing due to the compromises forced on him by Tommy, jealous of his relationship with Grace, bitterly obsessed with cleansing Birmingham of sin and Peaky Blinders, no peace can come from this. By the end of episode five, all seems resolved. Tommy’s plan seemingly can’t fail and has even been seen to smile, he is in love with Grace, the police are content that the guns have been returned to them and all should now fine. There is just one more episode left for it all to go to hell.
Campbell, finally fallen from Grace, pursues his bloody vengeance, trying to bring war to the streets and wipe out the Peaky Blinders. A battle is instigated between Billy Kimber’s men and the massively outnumbered Peaky Blinders. In a tense confrontation, massacre is only averted by Tommy’s sister Ada – Family breaks the conflict and the only casualties are Kimber himself and poor Danny Whizzbang.
And in the end, Kimber is dead, Grace is gone her with betrayal revealed, Campbell is disgraced and the Peaky Blinders are victorious, now the third largest legal racetrack bookies in the country. And Tommy? He yearns for the love he lost, the only woman he ever loved, who felt she had to walk away.
Then, in the surprising denouement, Grace invites him to follow her to London and, shortly before she is confronted by a vengeful Campbell, Tommy rests his decision on a portentous coin toss. We never see the result of the coin toss, we never see whether Campbell kills Grace. We shall have to wait to see what happens in season 2.
Season two begins starts this week, and Tom Hardy has been added to the cast. Watch the trailer now!