Tuesday 20 February 2018

'It's fookin' brilliant and Tom Hardy hasn't even shown up yet' - Peaky Blinders series 3 first episode preview

Peaky Blinders, BBC
Peaky Blinders, BBC
Charlotte Riley as May in Peaky Blinders
Helen McCrory in Peaky Blinders
Grace Burgess, Peaky Blinders
Paddy Considine in Peaky Blinders
Peaky Blinders
Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders

Pat Stacey

I'm worried about Peaky Blinders. Seriously worried. The belting period gangster saga, which some have dubbed Birmingham’s Boardwalk Empire, returns to BBC2 tonight for a third run.

But how long can we count on charismatic empire-builder Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) and his violent, tight-knit clan being around on Thursday nights in the future?

The audience for Peaky Blinders in the UK has rarely risen much above two million, which is modest even for BBC2 and begs the question: Why isn’t such a fantastic series on BBC1, where it could maximise its audience?

While on-the-night figures aren’t quite as important as they used to be because of catch-up viewing, even series boasting much bigger audiences are no longer immune to abrupt cancellation.

Charlotte Riley as May in Peaky Blinders
Charlotte Riley as May in Peaky Blinders

Ripper Street was pulling in a healthy four million a week on BBC1 when, out of nowhere, it felt the swish of the axe — and all because ITV’s idiotic I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! was beating it in the ratings.

Mind you, the Beeb was left wiping egg off its face when Amazon picked the series up, significantly increased the budget and gave creator/writer Richard Warlow a free hand to write longer, more hard-hitting scripts.

Grace Burgess, Peaky Blinders
Grace Burgess, Peaky Blinders

You can still see the new episodes of Ripper Street on BBC1, but only months after they’ve been screened on Amazon, and in a version edited for content and running time.

There’s no indication yet that the BBC has any plans to pull the plug on Peaky Blinders. It’s worth noting, though, that the new season becomes available on Netflix in the US, where the series has gone down a storm, on May 31, when it will still be midway through its run on BBC2.

Helen McCrory in Peaky Blinders
Helen McCrory in Peaky Blinders

An omen of things to come, perhaps? A vision of a future where the streaming giants, their pockets stuffed with jangling gold coins, rampage across the broadcasting landscape stripping the traditional terrestrial broadcasters of the few genuine treasures they have left?

But let’s not dwell on that depressing scenario for too long. The important thing is that Peaky Blinders is back and tonight’s first instalment is, well, blindingly great.

There are plenty of very fine British drama series around right now, but in terms of style, scale and sheer confidence Peaky Blinders is one of the few that can hold a candle to the best of American cable television.

Picking up in 1922, two years on from the events of the previous season and in what could easily be a nod to The Godfather, it opens at a wedding and remains there for the duration of the episode. The groom is none other than Tommy himself.

Alas, I’m not at liberty to reveal the identity of his bride. The BBC has promised that if anyone lets the secret slip in advance, they’ll have their face rearranged by a big Brummie with a flat cap and a terrible haircut.

But let’s just say that, based on all that’s happened up to now, she’s a bit of a gobsmacker and liable to open up a whole new world of trouble for Tommy.

“I know what you are,” Tommy’s formidable Aunt Polly (the wonderful Helen McCrory) hisses at her, with good reason.

Not that trouble isn’t already brewing. Tommy has moved up in the world, at least in terms of the kind of people he’s now dealing with — namely, one Winston Churchill, who’s called in Tommy’s debt to him (the debt being Tommy’s life).

The grimy, rundown streets of Birmingham are still the base for the Shelbys, but Tommy has taken the family business into dangerous international waters. While the bigger picture isn’t entirely crystal clear in this opening episode, it’s obvious he’s embroiled in a lucrative operation to provide, with Churchill’s blessing, arms to Russia. 

He’s not best pleased, however, when business intrudes on his wedding day, especially since he’s been trying to ensure the Blinders are on their best behaviour. “No fookin’ guns, no fookin’ snow (cocaine), no fookin’ fighting, no fookin’ sporting!” he bellows at them.

This being a Peaky Blinders family occasion, there’s blood on the floor, snow on the table, sporting in the bedroom and a mutilated body in the ground before the final credits roll.

In all, fookin’ brilliant — and Tom Hardy hasn’t even shown up yet.

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