Peaky Blinders (Thursdays, BBC Two, 9pm) is Scarface with a Brummie accent. I won’t compare it to The Godfather: it’s too low-rent.
As season three opens, Tommy Shelby and his gang of Birmingham thugs have risen so far in the world that he’s able to marry his girlfriend in a mansion, beneath a gaudy oil painting of his rotten family. Winston Churchill is using Tommy as a conduit for distributing guns to the White forces in Russia – a kind of legitimisation of his criminal activities. The show is trying to make a point about the violence of the state being little different from the violence of the common man. Hence the wedding ends, predictably, in a bare knuckle fight between a peaky and a soldier. Both are just savages in uniform. One wears the red of the army, the other a cap laced with razor blades.
It all makes for uncomfortable viewing for anyone with moral scruples. It’s true that the historical Blinders had a taste for high fashion, but they never acquired this much wealth or power and their activities don’t deserve the aesthetic brilliance of this show. The women, the men, the costumes, the lighting, the décor – it’s all too beautiful. The violence too exciting.
Peaky Blinders has serious things to say about the underbelly of England but it owes far too much to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The interplay of modern and 1920s music is outright disgusting. Men get their throats ripped out to the Arctic Monkeys. The lyrics offer an emotional insight into the characters which, frankly, I can’t detect from the script and am not particularly interested in understanding. These are horrible people. The least the director could do is make them look horrible.
Paddy Considine apparently shows up in episode two as a Catholic priest and we’re promised by the screenwriter that he is: “the most evil character I have ever written”. But of course he is. The cliché writes itself. Considine, like everyone else in this show, and particularly Helen McCrory, is a great actor. But it’s troubling that so much talent is spent on something so nihilistic that, when you scrape away the varnish and gold, it’s really just delivering cheap thrills to the punters.