So what happened?
Even before the opening credits rolled, we had our answer to what happened in the first series’ train station cliffhanger between secret agent-turned barmaid-turned real love interest, Grace (Annabelle Wallis), and her father’s former friend and arch-villain, Inspector Campbell (Sam Neill). Apparently she fired the weapon concealed in her bag before he had chance to shoot her and presumably left Birmingham to evade being caught. Cut to two years later and the Shelbys are burying Freddie Thorne, the Communist Party sympathiser and husband/father to Ada (Sophie Rundle) and their son. Like all good early twentieth century off-screen deaths he’s had the good sense to die of the pestilence, and his wife doesn’t seem too cut up about it. Neither does his brother-in-law, Tommy (Cillian Murphy), who uses the funeral as an opportunity to tell his sister to leave London because it won’t be safe when he and his brothers enact their expansion plans into the capital. Stubbornly she refuses, with disastrous consequences later on.
To make matters worse than they already are, a group who appear to be Irish insurgents bomb the family’s pub with one the most inventive use of prams I’ve ever seen, and thus embroil Tommy in a plot to assassinate a blacksmith that will ensure his and his family’s safety if he complies. Little does he know that Campbell is not only alive, limping and still a bastard, but he’s now a bastard with a wolf-headed cane and a well-honed aptitude in setting people up to act as agents, only to not come through with the pardon he’d promised them before they’re hung. After undertaking his murder mission and staring down objections from his family about extending the business into ‘The Smoke’, Tommy takes his two brothers, John (Joe Cole) and Arthur (Paul Anderson) with him to London, stopping on the way to bury a body, before literally painting the town red in a violent altercation intended as a show of strength and a perverse offer of friendship to the Jewish gang owners of the club they briefly patronize.
Of course there are consequences, and more dire ones than the head of the Peaky Blinders anticipated. As his sister is carted away by a portion of the Italian gang he’s pissed off by offering his allegiance to their Jewish counterparts, Tommy comes face to face with their top dog, Darby Sabrini (Noah Taylor), and a number of his henchmen, who beat him to a pulp and are on the verge of finishing him off when, ironically, Campbell arrives just in time to scare them away, and no doubt arrest his nemesis for the murder he’d shiftily set up in the first place. The sneaky, sneaky bastard!
As with the first series, there continue to be a number of flaws with this show. A tendency to tell rather than show still persists with some depressingly, expositional dialogue, almost as if the writers are playing to a panto gallery rather than writing for a sophisticated TV audience. In a similar vein Campbell may as well be holding a sign above his head declaring his beastliness, so overworked is his part as villain of the piece, which is a great shame as Neill is an accomplished actor. At least he seems to be enjoying himself with it.
All in all there’s also a lot to like too. As ever the show is visually stunning and enriched by the unabashedly, anachronistic soundtrack that helps push the narrative along at a pace that would make it’s American cousin, ‘Boardwalk Empire’, dizzy. In addition, it’s nice to see the women of the show step to the fore. Esme (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), John’s wife, has found a voice of her own with regards to family matters, whilst the always feisty Aunt Pol (Helen McCrory) has been given an intriguing backstory about the children she had taken away from her, even if her being duped by the Romany medium was a little hard to believe of such a savvy matriarch. Lizzie Stark (Natasha O’Keeffe), the newly instated secretary for the business, is also a welcome, and perhaps more appropriate, potential new love interest for Tommy as he continues to pine away for the ethereal Grace.
The real selling point of ‘Peaky Blinders’, however, is the stellar cast. Cillian Murphy never disappoints as the staid brains of the Shelby clan and McCrory continues to mesmerise as his Aunt, alongside an ensemble that doesn’t really have a weak link. Whatever the other problems with the show, I’d continue to watch for them alone.
Reviewed by Danielle.