Tuesday 17 September 2019

Peaky Blinders season 5 episode 1 review: It roars back, all guns blazing

5 stars

Peaky Blinders stars Cillian Murphy (Robert Viglasky/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd 2019)
Peaky Blinders stars Cillian Murphy (Robert Viglasky/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd 2019)

Pat Stacey

YOU can’t really describe Peaky Blinders as a cult show any more. Cult shows aren’t usually shown in 180 countries.

Nor do they usually spawn an official online store, books, video games, grooming products, a music, food and fashion festival, and a clothing range from Kent & Curwen, the label 20pc owned by David Beckham.

And then there are all the famous fans who have been raving about it: Dennis Lehane, Stephen King, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Snoop Dogg, Tom Cruise, Michael Mann, Steven Spielberg and the late David Bowie who, shortly before his death, asked Stephen Knight to use his music in the series.

With all this adulation, plus the fact that Peaky Blinders has been promoted, so to speak, from BBC2 to the more mainstream BBC1 for its fifth season, it would be understandable if Knight had diluted the formula, softened it a little to make it more appealing to a wider, perhaps less adventurous television audience.

Peaky Blinders (BBC/PA)
Peaky Blinders (BBC/PA)

**Warning: spoilers for episode 1**

The good news, after tonight’s riveting return, is that there has been no compromise. Knight has stuck to the blazing guns that served him so well during seasons one to four.

Peaky Blinders has always been a consciously stylish series. While this was the most cinematic episode so far, often beautiful to look at and best enjoyed on the biggest HD screen you can find, it still punched brutally hard and fast.

It’s 1929, two years after Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) wiped out New York mafioso Luca Changretta (Adrien Brody) and his goons, finished off traitorous Jewish gang leader Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy), and became the unlikely Labour MP for Birmingham South – a role that brings him into contact with a certain Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin).

The Shelbys are revelling in the decadent pursuits readily available in the Roaring Twenties to those who could afford them.

Polly (Helen McCrory) is enjoying the sensual pleasures of young men in Monte Carlo.

Her son Michael (Finn Cole) is in Chicago, overseeing the family’s American investments. Back home in Birmingham, human powder keg Arthur (Paul Anderson), trying hard to stay a reformed man and wriggling awkwardly in the unsuitable role of chairman of the board, is doing far more of the fashionable drug of the moment, cocaine, than is good for him.

Tommy is also doing way too many drugs – and, as usual, chain-smoking his head off – as he struggles to keep at bay the PTSD that is always just at the edge of his vision, threatening to overwhelm and consume him.

In his drugged-up moments, he has visions of his beloved, dead Grace (Annabelle Wallis) and flirts with suicidal thoughts.

Read more: Pat Stacey: Why Peaky Blinders season 5 is set to play a blinder and prove to be the best one yet

Nonetheless, he’s taken to the life of a politician like a duck to water and carried the survival skills learned on the grim streets of Birmingham with him into the Houses of Parliament.

We see him blackmail both a pompous, bewhiskered MP, who considers him a guttersnipe with ideas above his station, and a gay reporter who threatens to expose his unsavoury past.

Read more: You have to cancel reality for a while' - how Cillian Murphy brings Thomas Shelby to life

Not that Tommy has left the old business completely behind. He sends Aberama Gold (Aidan Gillen) and a team to crush a Chinatown gang that has been trying to muscle in on his territory, while the aforementioned reporter is torn to pieces in a hail of Tommy gun bullets in one of those bursts of operatic violence that have become a Peaky Blinders trademark.

But then disaster strikes in the shape of the Wall Street Crash. Michael’s decision to ignore Tommy’s orders and hold on to the Shelbys’ US shares reduces the financial empire Tommy has carefully built up to ashes, leaving him vulnerable, just as the sharks are circling.

Knight says this will be the “best ever” Peaky Blinders. Having already seen tonight’s explosive second episode, which is even better than tonight’s and introduces a set of terrifying new adversaries, I’m inclined to think it’s not mere hype.

Peaky Blinders continues on BBC1 at 9pm on Monday night.

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