The gangs of Birmingham – now as a thrilling series
I was sceptical as I started watching the first season of “Peaky Blinders”. Very sceptical. After the first episode (the pilot) I was rather confused and didn’t know what to think about the concept of a “Gangs of New York”-style drama series (– is it even possible to make the suspense of gang criminality last more than a few hours?), but it turned out very different and now I cannot wait to get to season two!
“Peaky Blinders” is a British crime drama written and created by Steven Knight and the first season is set in the early 1920s in Birmingham. This is the first of now four seasons and it aired on BBC Two in Britain on the 13th September 2013 and ran for 6 episodes. All seasons are now available on Netflix and it is possible (and in my case necessary – and you will see why) to watch the episodes in their original language but with subtitles. There is also the option of watching it dubbed into German which I cannot recommend at all! The British accent which all of the characters in “Peaky Blinders” have is a key element of the series and gives it its authentic charm. It took me (as somebody who is more familiar and connected with North American English) a while to get along with the British accent and the subtitles really helped me to understand the in large part highly colloquial dialogues which use many short forms and slang expressions.
The first episode introduces the Shelby family with its most important members and you get to know what their function within the range of criminal acts is. Almost the entire family is involved in different criminal acts ranging from collecting protection money, betting, and small thefts up to one big coup that will be the main crime during the first season. That one big coup (I won’t tell you what it is – no worries) brings the antagonist of the first season into the story. A ‘copper’ from London is sent to Birmingham by Mr Churchill himself in order to solve the crime and to put the entire Shelby family behind bars. This is the beginning of an interesting cat-and-mouse game with many intrigues, secrets and even love affairs. I didn’t get the feeling that I could predict any of the characters’ moves or actions, and that makes the entire first season full of suspense and doubly worth watching since you never know what is going to happen next.
A good thing about this kind of television show is that there is more than one storyline and I couldn’t say without hesitating which one is the most important or which one I liked best. They’re all connected to each other and influence one another which generates a feeling that you don’t want to miss anything, and I certainly tried not to! I paid close attention to every single episode and (if I had enough leisure time) I would watch them again since I’m pretty certain that I did miss some features and specials.
Even though the characters are involved in various criminal acts and beat other people up to threaten them you kind of develop a little empathy for them over time. A little bit more with every episode since you’ll see that even though they are criminals, most of them have their motivation and (sometimes) good reasons for acting like they do. Thomas, for instance, got back from the First World War quite recently and is traumatised. As a war veteran he isn’t really able to work a fulltime job but still wants to support his family and the people living in his neighbourhood. Since the government is barely doing anything for the lower class areas in Birmingham the Shelbys take their destiny into their own hands to change the world around them to make life a little bit better for their loved ones. As a result, “Peaky Blinders” shows the conflict between the government, represented by the police, and the locals. This conflict is a really rough and bloody one but it doesn’t get too brutal (well, at least it wasn’t for me), and even the fight scenes are accompanied by more modern music which takes seriousness of the situation away.
The characters in “Peaky Blinders” are very well constructed and especially the female characters tend to be really strong and independent. They are a good counterpart to the brutal male domain of organised crime in the 1920s. The story is thrilling and presents a concept that was new to me and unpredictable, and I’m looking forward to the next seasons of this dramatic series. The set is very authentic and that is one of the most important features of a TV show. I want to identify with the characters and I want to share the thrill with every single one of them. “Peaky Blinders” is able to evoke this sensation for me and I highly recommend it to anyone else that expects the same from a series as I do!