In this Funkhouser installment, I rummage through a hodgepodge of television shows and films, some of which are so obscure, you might be discovering them for the first time, others, simply forgotten about, several possibly mothballed and finally a few that just vanished into the ether altogether. This is Lost and Found: Episode 5.
There’s no telling how many months over the past year I’ve searched for a refreshing television show—to cleanse the palette so to speak—in betwixt the trendy or must-see, binge-worthy, programs, films, and documentaries, that hit my favorite on-demand network, Netflix. Not surprising, I’ve become a reasonably good scavenger, able to search the infinite catalog, flipping past countless titles without hesitation and at mind-numbing proficiency. That was until late last week, when a show I’d either consciously or sub-consciously overlooked so many times before, eventually stopped me in my tracks. After finishing the sci-fi thriller The OA—which I really enjoyed—I was in the mood for a show that looked like it was more grounded in reality, one that was less ambiguous, with fewer rabbit-holes and interpretive dance scenes, and that’s when I finally decided I’d have a go at Peaky Blinders—and honestly, I’m completely gutted I hadn’t started watching it sooner.
Originally airing on BBC Two in the U.K. in 2013, the show’s first season— consisting of six, hour-long episodes—eventually made its way over the pond and onto the streaming network almost a year later. And for two and a half freaking years, it sat there on the virtual shelf, gathering in effect electric dust, begging to be watched. Yet, for whatever reason, I ignored it, and as another year passed, a second season dropped, and then a third. Which brings me to last week, when I finally went all-in on the British show. I know what you’re thinking, great another boring, bloated, stuffy, period series like Downton Abbey or The Crown—you’d be dead wrong. Combining a solid cast of venerable actors, incredible wardrobes, and historically accurate settings and locations, along with the show’s impeccably paced and piercing writing set to a folky and modern soundtrack—the show has a lot more in common with Deadwood, but without all the graphic sex scenes. Right from the start, it’s hard to imagine how Peaky Blinders wouldn’t become your new favorite binge-worthy series.
Peaky Blinders is a nefariously mesmerizing English series set in 1919 shortly after the First World War in Birmingham, England. It depicts the lives of the Shelby’s, who run a criminal enterprise under the guise of the Peaky Blinders, a gang which take their namesake from the razor blades in which they stitch into the bills of their woolen newsboy hats. The show’s epic first two seasons, center around the gang’s leader Thomas “Tommy” Shelby, played masterfully by Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins, Inception), a steely-eyed, disillusioned veteran, as he methodically builds and expands his burgeoning felonious organization, with the help of his brothers Arthur, played by Paul Anderson (The Revenant) and John, played by Joe Cole (Green Room) into a major criminal empire. After a weapons and ammunitions heist, Tommy, already notorious, draws the attention of a young Winston Churchill, deftly played by Andy Nyman (Death at a Funeral), then Secretary of State, who assigns Inspector Campbell, portrayed by veteran actor Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Event Horizon) to investigate and recover the missing munitions. From there the series immerses viewers deeper into the seedy underbelly of post-war English life as the Shelby’s plot, scheme, betray and murder their way to the top, growing in power, but making enemies at every turn, exposing them to more complex and powerful foes along the way.
Even if you’re not into crime dramas, the show is bestowed with a sort of repressed raw energy, just brewing under the surface that’s difficult to ignore. This is possibly due to the limitless talent and depth of its cast—every actor’s performance seems effortless, including Award-winning actress Helen McCrory (Skyfall, Harry Potter), who plays Aunt Polly, but its clear Murphy is the biggest key to unlocking the show’s success—carrying the series on his shoulders and owning every scene with such gravitas.
In addition to the characters, the series offers a historically accurate look at working class English life fashioned around early twentieth century locales such as institutions like the brassy pubs, as well as steamy back alleyways, dirty and muddy streets, grassy countrysides, and the grungy and sparse living quarters of the struggling city dwellers. Each setting is absolutely intoxicating to the senses—you can almost feel the wooden floor planks bend and squeak under the weight of its inhabitants, itch from the dingy bedsheets and woolen, layered clothing customary of the time, almost smell and taste whiskey and the smoke as it wafts from the cigarettes, pipes and bellowing furnaces and foundries, and hear the sounds of the city, as feet slosh through the puddled streets, and voices carry through the thinly wallpapered walls and around hardened brick exteriors. The faint cries of children are drowned out by the bustlings sounds of the city, stuck between the horse and wagons of the past era along with the mass produced automobiles of the future.
Not only is the writing sharp, and dialogue delivered impeccably—what doesn’t sound better with a British accent—but also the music is out-and-out brilliant too. Apart from the traditional Irish folk music and instrumentals, musician Nick Cave and his band The Bad Seeds are featured consistently throughout the show, even providing the haunting and gothy theme song (Red Right Hand) for the series. Other well-known bands and artists also lend a hand in scenes including but not limited to: The White Stripes, PJ Harvey, Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead and The Raconteurs.
Take my word for it, stop wasting time and have a butcher’s before Seasons 4 and 5 drop!
Peaky Blinders is rated TV-MA