Looking now at Steven Knight’s passion project, sold to the BBC as a four-season presentation of the gritty violence of 1919 Britain, ‘Peaky Blinders’ is now in its fifth season with no signs of an end close; but I honestly wished it had. What, in the past, came off as good writing depicting Birmingham’s underbelly and the politics of a dying Imperial Britain, has hit a halt this season, and for what? The answer is seemingly to let in some new talent in unappealing roles, jump the shark in a care home on the coast and find out if Sam Claflin looks sexier with a moustache.
The writing is just not up to par with the stories of the past, trying to focus on the beginnings of parliamentary fascism through the Shelby family’s new partnership with Oswald Mosely – founder of the British Union of Fascists – rather than building on the storylines already adored by fans. Characters here all come off as bland and dusty (apart from an amazing performance from Paul Anderson as borderline monster Arthur Shelby), with near to no importance until the final minute of the season, leaving few moments of suspense and action and instead featuring thirty minutes of period drama just for a rushed and sometimes wacky, breath of violence.
Still there is much praise for cinematography and music. Highlights include the electrifying use of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” in a scene featuring a militia group, Arthur’s scene of breakdown after torturing an innocent man, and the various arguments over drowning chords in the houses of Parliament.
But it’s clear the Shelby characters are unrecognisable to that beloved idea Knight began with, now directed by Anthony Byrne, the latest instalment feels like the first half of something which could be salvaged, or merely the beginning of a downward spiral. I’d like to see if this is a problem Thomas Shelby can think through.