Peaky Blunders: How Peaky Blinders Went Rotten

by thethreepennyguignol

You girl is on her period and utterly busy-ed out at the moment, so this post comes courtesy of my excellent co-writer over at No But Listen, who has stepped in to vent about a show he hates for your reading pleasure. And also mainly so I don’t have to hear him ranting about it any longer.

The fifth season of BBC hit show Peaky Blinders finished on Sunday, and I haven’t a fucking clue what happened. Why? Might you ask. Or who cares? Or, who the hell are you and what are you doing writing for this blog? Well I care, so here comes a rant. But first an apt description of how I feel about the show in a short anecdote about a film that no one has seen.

The Sisters Brothers is a revisionist western released earlier this year with a theatrical run that was presumably shorter than the film itself. In my favourite scene, the titular brothers, played with more nuance than you can shake a tumbleweed at by Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly, are confronted with a posse who plan to murder them. A drunken Joaquin takes great pleasure in explaining to everyone the reason why they are pointing guns at him. It’s the brother’s reputation as skilled killers, a reputation that, as Joaquin states, gives them a level of prestige. And just as he slurs out the last syllable of the word prestige, he vomits his guts up. That wonderful moment of celluloid (or whatever the bloody digital equivalent is), from a genre of film that Peaky Blinders is indebted to, perfectly describes this show. It tries to throw so much prestige at you that you want to throw up.

The show has more problems than the amount of times someone says the word “business”. I played a business drinking game with myself (the drink was business red wine which is the business reason I was alone. I get a bit business Arthur Shelby on the old claret business) and was sitting in my business chair upside down trying on my best business Irish accent while trying to give myself a Shelby haircut with the business end of a wine bottle. It was ugly business.

It may surprise you to know that I started off liking the show quite a bit. Of course, this was in 2014 when there were only the first two seasons to contend with; back then the whole anti-hero thing was still big business (I’ll stop, sorry). Breaking Bad was still fresh, Game of Thrones didn’t suck, The Americans remained brilliantly unwatched, and Sherlock had only just become completely ludicrous. In this company, Tommy Shelby and his band of brummy gangsters fit right in. Just like Sherlock,  Peaky Blinders papered over some big cracks by casting a brilliant actor as its leading man.

I cannot fault Cillian Murphy. I think he’s a supremely talented actor and through his skill alone he has made Tommy Shelby somewhat compelling. The acting isn’t really the problem at all. Everyone is pretty fantastic, especially Sam Neil and Helen McRory. Season two even had Tom Hardy, and he was the best London gangster since he was put in charge of sliced bread. All these awful jokes are to prove that I did give the show a chance, so much of one that I remembered Tom Hardy was a sodding baker.

So, the actors can’t be blamed. Neither can any of the production crew: it’s a beautifully directed show, the costumes, the production design, the period detail that I’ll assume is correct (after all, I’m not in the history business), it’s all brilliant. Who is to blame then? There’s only one person left. And that’s the showrunner, Steven Knight.

Knight isn’t the worst writer ever, he’s come up with some brilliant stuff: the little indie drama Locke being one, and, okay, season two of Peaky Blinders isn’t terrible. But he is the culprit when it comes to why the show went from a fun watch to absolute torture.

The first problem is one of scale. Take any episode of the show and look at it scene for scene. Very quickly, you start to notice a pattern. Every scene feels like a Big Moment. A moment of violence, betrayal, subterfuge, speechifying, someone getting a gun pointed at them, planning robberies, murders, etc. Each scene played as if it’s the money shot. You would think that dramatic moment after dramatic moment would result in actual drama, but all it does is make me want a wee lie down. This type of writing, along with the imposing music, and the dramatic angles, overloads the story. How can you have big moments when every moment is big? You can’t.

Characterization is another huge misstep. This one is simple because Tommy is the only real character the show has. I know that sounds ridiculous: what about Pol, John, Solomon, Ida, Arthur, Danny Whiz Bang, Freddie, and on and on? These are not good characters; they’re just played by good actors. Take the most prominent Shelbys after Tommy: Arthur goes through the exact same story every season. He’s a changed man, except when he’s a psychotic killer, back and forth we fucking go. What about John? Nothing, literally nothing. I’ve watched three seasons of this show and John, despite Joe Cole’s best efforts, hasn’t changed.

Finally, we have Pol, since Ada’s only there to tell Tommy he’s a shit, who is the biggest waste of a character the show has. Helen McRory is a gem, and Pol always threatens to be a brilliant character, but it never happens in a way that’s satisfying. In season one her role was trying to herd Ada and Freddie, which is like herding cats, as Tommy or Freddie would consistently undo Pol’s efforts immediately. Season two was a little better as her reunion with her son, and her fears about him getting involved in the family business provided solid conflict. Then Sam Neill raped her in a plot as contrived as this next use of the word business. Season three lumbered her with a romance with the gout prince of Dorne, side-lined as Knight packed said season with lots of convoluted machinations that remind us that the only important thing to know is what’s going on with Tommy.

The crux of this is that I’m tired of these types of shows. The anti-hero with a heart full of man pain and a period setting that ensures that he can never deal with it. The same period setting that keeps female characters from having anything interesting to do; unless you’re Grace who gets off on constantly being insulted, nearly raped, sharing some murder, and taking the bullet meant for your husband meaning you’ll never see your son grow up. Seriously, how could she fall in love with this ghoul after all that? It must be those dreamy eyes.

I’m sick of Peaky Blinders. I’m sick of seeing the fucking haircut on every other man I see, I’m sick of violence that has little to say other than “isn’t crime naughty? Never mind, I made a mint out of it.” So fuck off show. And thanks to the Cutprice Guignol for giving me the chance to rant about it.

By Kevin Boyle

(header image via Joe.IE)