Tuesday 20 February 2018

Peaky Blinders season 3 episode 1 review: 'Intentional or not the first episode feels like a ‘f*ck you’ to Downton Abbey'

Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby in Peaky Blinders
Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby in Peaky Blinders

Christopher Hooton

**WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS for season 3 episode 1**

Peaky Blinders feels like HBO or AMC. This isn’t to disparage the BBC, it’s just its dramas generally have a very ‘TV look’ about them that can’t match the big budget, opulent cinematography being crafted on the other side of the Atlantic.

But with its billowing smokestacks, moody lighting and charred scenery, Peaky Blinders puts every penny it has to good use, and more than stands up when watched back to back with a Game of Thrones or a Mad Men.

This is particularly true of the new season, the first episode of which was a visual orgy, with its fastidious set design, immaculate costume and poised shot composition.

The episode opened on Tommy’s wedding day - as creator Steven Knight promised - and it came as little surprise that he chose to marry Grace (though I was secretly hoping for a marriage of business convenience to May, with the Grace story being resolved in a later season).

It was an upbeat opening, a rare moment for the Shelbys to raise a glass of whiskey in celebration rather than commiseration/preparation, although, as ever, business was never far from the table, and it soon started to seep into the reception like a noxious gas.

We got our first taste of a new threat from Russia, though no sign yet of Paddy Considine’s nefarious priest we’ve been promised, and rivalries between Grace’s landed family and Tommy’s Peakys wound up with bare knuckle boxing at the reception.

Arthur, who many expected to be in the depths of full blown cocaine addiction, instead was seen pressured into a new drug: religion, while one of the best and most telling moments of the episode revolved around Michael - a well-balanced scene that showed his willingness to get down and dirty with the Blinders but also that he possesses the intelligence and restraint of his brother, Tommy. We can expect him to become hugely important as the season - and show - progresses.

A note on the score here, which was sublime as ever, culminating in a really alluring use of Radiohead’s 'You And Who’s Army?'. Big musicians and bands have apparently been clamouring to get their songs in the show, and we can expect more in future episodes.

The new season has more than earned that familiar term in TV parlance - ‘highly anticipated’ - and you can sense it in the production, which feels ratcheted up in every respect.

The writing is stronger than ever and so are the performances, with Cillian Murphy now developing that Gandolfini-esque ability to say so much using only his eyes, and the stakes are now much higher plot-wise. The Billy Kimber scuffles of season one seem a distant memory.

Intentionally or not, the first episode feels like a ‘f*ck you’ to Downton Abbey. The Shelbys are now starting to match the Crawleys in terms of wealth and land, but you’ll find no 'hanky panky with the maid' bullsh*t here, with Peaky Blinders depicting 1920s Britain warts and all, as it should.

With a US broadcast sorted this time through Netflix, let’s hope the Emmy Awards are watching.

(© Independent News Service)

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