A couple of weeks back when I was looking for a series, I was reminded of this recommendation by a friend. He had told me the following quote and suggested checking out the Peaky Blinders:
Everybody is a whore. We just sell different parts of ourselves.
Cillian Murphy is an amazing actor. I have always associated him to Nolan movies. He brings this grey shade anti-hero character to life and you can't help but root for him. That is what I found in Peaky Blinders with Tommy Shelby. The surety and confidence that he brings to the table will give anyone a sense of security if you have him on your side. But get on his wrong side and there will be hell to pay.
The series follows a story arc per season, each of which is kept compact with 6 episodes. There are 5 seasons out on Netflix with the 6th in the works set to be the conclusion of the series.
The series follows a war veteran, Tommy Shelby, who runs as part of the gang Peaky Blinders. The Peaky Blinders is a family business running based out of Small Heath, Birmingham, involving Tommy, his brothers Arthur, John and Finn, his sister Ada and his aunt Polly.
The gang deals with illegal betting and gambling with Tommy aiming to make it a legit business. Post World War I England has been portrayed with the politics of the country reflected in the series.
I have covered my thoughts on season 1 to 4 below.
Season 1: Local War
A missing crate of guns propagates the plot of the first season, which Tommy uses as an opportunity to leverage the Agent of the crown, Agent Campbell. While Campbell has suspects in communists, the Peaky Blinders and the IRA (Irish Republican Army), he is able to narrow down his suspicion to Tommy with the help of a secret agent, Grace. Agent Campbell is established as a uncorrupt police officer, who adheres the law and aims to maintain order and remove corruption, under the oversight of Winston Churchill.
When the series opens with the scene of the horse trick and Tommy reporting to Arthur, I thought it was Arthur who ran the Peaky Blinders. But it is soon established that Tommy is the brains, guided closely by his aunt Polly. His cunning is illustrated when he shows his plan for fixing the horse races so that the favored horse wins, not once, but twice, so that more people bet on it and the overall winnings in the third race can be recouped tenfold. Tommy is ready for small losses for the big gain and this makes evident of his strategic prowess.
Tommy plans to move against Billy Kimber and seize his race tracks so as to establish their business as a legit one. Using the guns as leverage, he makes a deal with the cops to stay away from race tracks while the Peaky Blinders move to take it over.
The center of this season is the Garrison pub in Birmingham, which is where the Peaky Blinders predominantly hang out. It is also where Grace joins up for work to spy on the Peaky Blinders. A lot of the key dealings in this season happen at the pub, marking its importance.
The effects of World War I are evident in the people of the community, who had fought in the war together. Even though their agendas are different now, you can see the bond formed over their survival from the war. The effects the war had on people is shown in the episodes of reliving like experienced by Danny Whizbang, or the angry hot-headedness of Arthur or the nightmares of Tommy. Communism is rising in London as represented by Freddie Thorne and his union.
The series started out being personal and local to Small Heath, Birmingham. Getting established in a legitimate business is the goal and it is very reminiscent of Godfather 3. Grace falling in love with Tommy is predictable and yet executed gracefully (pun intended), when she helps him escape a raid by Agent Campbell. She does perform her duty as an agent by discovering the location of the guns, but finally supports Tommy.
Knowing that taking on Billy Kimber will require help, Tommy arranges for John to get married into the Lee family to Esme. With their help he is ready to take on Kimber, but instead of things going as planned, Campbell betrays Tommy and arranges for Kimber to attack him. Even though Ada, Tommy's sister tries to appeal to their good natures by bringing her baby in between the two armies, Billy Kimber fires a shot and is put down by Tommy. The single headshot resolves the situation.
The series ends in a kind of a tragic note with Agent Campbell about to shoot Grace and cut to black when the shot rings out. It was the only logical end to Grace's storyline as she would have reformed Tommy and a reformation storyline doesn't make for a good series.
Season 2: On to London
The season starts with a bang, literally with an explosion of the Garrison. A clear indication that this season would be next level. This season is centered around the Shelby Company Limited in Birmingham.
Surprisingly, it wasn't Grace who was shot at the end of season 1, but Agent Campbell, now addressed as Major Campbell. His reputation has suffered in the police department for being shot by Grace and we see a darker side of his character. His is no longer the law-adhering officer. He is ready to resort to any extremes to get what he wants. He plans to use Tommy to execute a prominent IRA general.
On the other hand, with his legal presence established with the Shelby Company Ltd, Tommy plans to expand their presence to London, which is controlled by the Jews and Italians. Right out of the bat, he and his brothers show up in London and wreak havoc with plans to collaborate with the Jews. This is met with swift retaliation by Sabini, who leads the Italians, right in Birmingham. The stakes are higher than the last time with Tommy nearly beaten to death, but saved by Major Campbell.
Turning the situation of working for the crown to an advantage, Tommy collaborates with Solomons (played by Tom Hardy) and establishes his company in London, even getting an export license from the government.
Arthur seems worse off than before, haunted by his dreams of the war. He even kills a young boy in the boxing ring, unable to control his pent up rage. He is introduced to cocaine by Finn to deal with his terrors.
This time around Tommy has a plan to purchase his own horse for the race at Derby Day. This is when we meet May Carleton, a lady who had come to the bid for horses. She crosses paths with Tommy when she begins bidding for his horse and later even offers her services to him for training the horse. They bond over their mutual disconnection from their love interests and sleep with each other.
It is only when Grace enters the picture again that Tommy realizes that he still loves her. Even though she is married, they spend the night with each other and Grace gets pregnant. She considers breaking things off with her husband and it all comes down to Derby Day, which Tommy invites her to.
This season also introduces Polly's son, Michael, who was taken away from her when he was young. In Michael, we see the makings of a Peaky Blinder. I could see the parallels of a young Michael Corleone. However, unlike the Shelby brothers or Michael Corleone, he has not experienced his share of bloodshed or violence and Polly aims to keep it that way by keeping him away from the business. I was curious to see how they would take his arc.
When Sabini makes a deal with Solomons, it seems that it's going to get bad for the Peaky Blinders. Their presence is destroyed in London overnight with Arthur lured by Solomons, being captured and put in jail. In Birmingham, Campbell catches Michael and to get him out of jail, Polly allows herself to be f*cked by Campbell. Here we can see the extent to which Polly is ready to go to save her son, but a bad ass bitch that she is, there is sure a retribution to come.
For a moment all hope seems lost, until Tommy uses the Derby Day race to take control of the Italians, with the help of Solomons, with whom Sabini had not kept his promise. It is also on this day that he keeps his deal with the crown and executes the IRA general. Polly uses the opportunity to kill Campbell. With an intense final episode, leading up to the Tommy's almost execution, I was at the edge of my seat. I let out of breath of relief when Tommy is let free to be called on in the future, regards of Mr. Churchill.
Season 3: The People behind the Curtain
The season opens with a wedding, one that we have all been waiting for, of Grace and Tommy. I almost went and looked it up if it was Grace or May that Tommy was marrying and was glad that it was Grace. Though I did wonder how they were going to bring this cross of worlds, of an ex-agent and a gang leader together.
Called upon to work with the people behind the curtains, the Odd Fellows (Section D), Tommy now has to work broker a deal with the Russians. The whole season is dotted with uneasiness. Nothing is clear and there is always an underlying tension. This showcased by the killing of the Russian by Arthur in the first episode, right in the backdrop of Tommy's wedding.
The newly reformed Arthur finds himself battling against his better instincts when he has to do the killing. He is found himself caught between the teachings of the Lord, which he has found through his companion, Linda and what Tommy instructs him to do.
The center of this season is Tommy's house, which is where soon after the wedding, at a charity event, Grace is killed in a vendetta by the Changrettas. It seems a small conflict instigated by John on the son of Changretta to stop him from dating Lizzie and it is so unexpected that it would led to the death of Grace. But it makes sense in the big picture of driving the plot forward. Tommy instructs John and Arthur to bring Changretta and kill his wife. They allow his wife to go to America and bring back Changretta. Tommy planned to torture Changretta, but Arthur knew it would not help, so he executes him.
The death of Grace and the constant dealing with the Russian aristocrats (Whites), esp. Princess Tatiana, who is ready to spread her legs to get what she wants, it spikes up the uneasiness. Her uncle and aunt, the Russian aristocrats are ready to pimp her out to seal the deal. Unlike the previous season, the antagonists of this season seem to be too immense to take out.
The Odd Fellows are personified in Father Hughes, who has his own agenda in working with the Russians. Their plan is to supply armed vehicles to Russian Whites, supply information to the Reds and thereby, et the Soviet Reds to bomb the train, further instigating tensions between England and Russian. Tommy figures this out and warns the Reds and yet Father Hughes finds out and uses his son to threaten Tommy asking him to orchestrate the blast and plant evidence of the Reds.
The only part that seems retrofit in this season is Michael's backstory and prior association with Father Hughes, which gives him the motive to kill him. Not satisfied with his part in the legal part of the business, Michael itches to pick the gun and even goes so far as to protect Michael when he suspects Solomons for giving up his son. It is then that we get one of the best monologues from Solomons in the entire series.
I think the lowest direct involvement of Polly with the Peaky Blinders is in this season. We get to see more of her personal side with her own romantic arc with the artist, Ruben Oliver. He paints a portrait of Polly as this haughty self-confident lady, which later she herself destroys in her self-doubt and paranoia. A semi-accurate representation of her character.
However, Tommy is able to find out the location of his son and sends Michael to rescue him. In the meanwhile, he tunnels his way to the Russian treasury and steals their jewels. Turns out he had made a deal with Princess Tatiania, who was tired of the old ways of her uncle and aunt. It was unexpected but a fortunate twist that works in favour of the Shelbys.
With a good haul from the heist, it comes time to split the gains, and it seems all is going to be well. Despite the gains, a frustrated Tommy says that no matter how much they earn they will never be let into the inner circles. He says that the coppers are going to come and arrest Polly, Michael, John and Arthur for murder as he had crossed the powerful Section D. Again, it seems all is lost. How would Tommy get them out of this pickle?
Season 4: Vendetta
Just as Polly, Michael, John and Arthur are about to be executed, Tommy uses leverage he has against the King and gets them acquitted. He even uses this to get an OBE for himself. The family splits away in different directions, with only Michael remaining to work with Tommy.
I was wondering how through the main enemies that Tommy had made, his brothers had somehow stayed safe. It was then that the Black Hand is given for vengenance against the family by Luca Changretta. John gets killed in a shootout by the Italians. This time Luca had come with the backing of the Mafia. There seems to be so much tension in the family and yet they unite under Tommy's orders.
This season was going to be about revenge. Tommy understands that getting the family back together in Small Heath, Birmingham is the best way to keep them safe. They have to return to the roots. It does not seem like a long time that they have been away from Birmingham (only one season) but in world time, quite a few years have passed.
Tommy ties up with Aberama Gold, who seem to be savages, and yet beyond their introduction, where they seem to be a reasonable people. Aberama tries to take Uncle Charlie's railyard and is quickly put in his place by Tommy. Aberama wants Tommy to help train his son in boxing and this is arranged.
Polly seems really affected by her near death experience with her execution and now seems to have tapped into her ancestral abilities. What I was disappointed about was that they did not continue with the arc with the artist in this season. It is understandable that now that she has been convicted, he would leave her but not without a word or a direct resolution. Ruben seemed to be setup as a spy or even distinctly as a love interest to Polly and yet here we see him be replaced by Aberama Gold.
In this we see the gypsy origins of the character with her abilities as a witch. It is an interesting mystical twist to connect to a culture of which much is a mystery. But she comes into her form as the decision maker, after Michael insists in her clear headedness to help Tommy. Polly in her free mindedness hooks up with Aberama.
In Michael, we see a certain clarity about how he knows his mother is important than Tommy and he choose her plan over confiding to Tommy, when it seems that Polly has made a deal with Luca. However, as this was a dupe by Polly to set Luca up, Tommy loses his trust in Michael.
The center in this season is Small Heath, Birmingham with the Garrison and Shelby Company Ltd playing a dominant role again. The final boxing match is where things are leading up to. Luca approaches Solomons making a deal with him to betray Tommy and sneaks a few Italians into the fight. Having no choice but to agree, Solomons resigns to the fact that he will be screwed either as the Italians plan to take over London. The Italians prepare to attack during the fight and seem to succeed in killing Arthur. A heartbroken Tommy seems to give up on fighting back. He raises a truce with Luca Changretta's mother, ready to put an end to the war at Arthur's funeral.
What seemed odd is that in Arthur's funeral, Linda did not kick and scream at Tommy like Esme did in John's. In fact, Linda had a bigger issue with Tommy and yet she doesn't make a scene. Turns out it was all a ruse and that Arthur was still alive. Tommy had reached out to Luca's enemies, in this case, Al Capone, to strike a deal. There is always someone out to get your enemy. All you have to do is team up with them.
While Luca tried to rub in Tommy's face by asking him to sign over all his businesses, he had already lost as by the deal that Tommy made, all he had to do was kill Luca and he would not face any retaliation. The Italians, who had survived, were unfortunately not family and would not help Luca.
Tommy also ends up killing Solomons for his betrayal, a fact he is well aware, choosing to tell Tommy, where he was going to be, in the fight.
There is a sub plot with Jesse Eden, the leader of communists, who is seduced by Tommy. Tommy uses her to get to the leadership of the communists and supply information to the government. Ever the opportunist, by the end of this season, Tommy officially becomes a member of the parliament.
Thoughts so far
I have to give quite a bit of credit to the series for pulling of intense moments. I loved its one arc per season with slight implications and cliffhangers that carry over to the next season. It seems that every season one ups the previous ones in terms of the tension and the people up the ladder.
There is a lot to learn from Peaky Blinders and Tommy Shelby. A few oservations I have had are:
- Always be aware.
- Find someone more powerful than your enemy. There is always someone.
- Use every situation as an opportunity.
- Always have a plan.
- Be ready to pivot when the plan goes kaput. There is always room to pivot.
Overall, I am loving Peaky Blinders so far and am in the middle of season 5. I can't wait to complete the season and present my complete thoughts.