For those like me who have come to the Brum gangster series late, it is a thrilling revelation of wrong-footings and revenge.
I know this is a bit like discovering a great new singer, telling everyone about it, then realising it’s Adele, but I’ve discovered this great new show you really all should watch, and it’s Peaky Blinders (BBC2). When you write about television for a living – please feel free to join my entire family in wondering how that’s a proper job in any way – you end up watching an awful lot of programmes. But there simply isn’t enough time to watch all of them, and sometimes the big guns fall through the cracks: The West Wing is never going to happen for me – too many seasons, too much commitment. But what a treat to have jumped into Peaky Blinders, even at this late stage. Not only is this series providing one of the most exquisitely daft and thrilling hours of the TV week, but it’s now given me three previous series to catch up on over Christmas.
There is no spoon-feeding of previous plot entanglements, and not much in the way of exposition, so newcomers have to keep their wits about them. But four episodes in and I’m onboard with the Shelbys to such an extent that I now understand the man who got the cast of the show tattooed over his entire back. It’s so bombastic and showy and recklessly fun. And last week’s ultimate betrayal made me gasp out loud: could Polly really do such a thing to Tommy, even when the stakes are so high?
I don’t think she can, but more on that later. This was a masterclass in criss-crossed wrong-footings and gameplay. Arthur scrubbed off the red paint and turned to God, but he still found himself answering to the vengeance of a grieving mother, who set the gang up for the Italians to pick off, though not quite in the way they had anticipated. I enjoyed Mrs Ross’s incompetent but Tarantino-esque approach to wreaking revenge on her son’s killer. “Vengeance is forthcoming, and long overdue,” she droned, over the ominous sound of a tragic cello.
Of course Luca Changretta wasn’t stupid enough to fall for such a basic ambush, and went to put the fear of God into Michael instead: “Tell your mama we have a deal.” Adrien Brody is so hammy that the Food Standards Agency is looking for his Red Tractor stamp, but he’s hugely enjoyable as the throaty-voiced mob boss, though on screen for just about as much as I could take. Also fantastically overcooked are Aiden Gillen’s Aberama Gold and Tom Hardy’s Alfie Solomons, and with the three of them giving it the full Bafta, you might expect it to all be too much. Yet somehow, it works. The final scene with Gillen, Hardy and Cillian Murphy really gave a sense of TV at its finest.
“Men don’t have the strategic intelligence to conduct wars between families,” Polly said, dryly, and the female characters have been slowly sliding to the front of the action all series. I don’t believe Polly is serving Tommy up to Luca, even with that black star on the Friday in his diary, but I can’t wait to see what happens if she is. I loved her reading Lizzie’s tea leaves and giving out the most of-its-time pregnancy advice possible: “Stop drinking whisky and start drinking stout.” And I’ve enjoyed Jessie Eden’s communist rallying, and the effect she has had on Tommy’s sense of who he is, and where he belongs. Her scenes with Ada in the pub were the funniest in the episode, particularly when Ada talks about how her brother is, beneath it all. “Beneath the cuttings, the shootings, the beatings, the murders?” asks Jessie. “Yes, beneath all that,” she replies. It’s witty, thrilling and a total pleasure to watch. Peaky Blinders is brilliant TV. You heard it here last.