The Peaky Blinders presents a noteworthy narrative that has yet to be explored in mainstream television. With the current status of popular culture in film and television today, where superhero series are set as the most prevalent setting, Peaky Blinders was able to push through towards a more mainstream audience with its period crime drama setting that was formerly directed towards niche audiences.
The first season brilliantly portrays the premise of organized crime within the confines of post-WWI Britain, reflecting the radical effects of the internal conflict, and the First World War, through illustrating the engagement of these morally neutral characters in heinous misdeeds. This critical essay will outline the reasons for this generally positive review.
The show features illegal activities and organized crime, emphasizing the eagerness for expansion and prosperity. It illustrated how Thomas became the feared and vicious leader of the Peaky Blinders, a gang in Birmingham. The Peaky Blinders expanded from small-time robberies and illicit bookmaking to a powerful criminal organization that achieved social supremacy throughout Birmingham and eventually London via gambling managements, savagery, and corruption.
Peaky Blinders characters
Peaky Blinders’ representation of each character’s life and the story depicted 1920s England. The show shares remarkable similarities to culturally significant movies such as The Godfather and Gangs of New York.
Furthermore, Peaky Blinders’ setting was well-crafted, resulting in an intriguing and compelling storyline. Moreover, certain scenes are overly protracted, and unconnected circumstances may cause viewers to lose track of the main plot.
For example, Inspector Campbell’s proposal to Grace Burgess, which was detached from the series’ central narrative, might lead to puzzlement for some audiences. In addition, the authorities’ involvement within the Peaky Blinders’ crime and the Lee Family’s, the competing gangs of the Peaky Blinders in Birmingham, was prevalent.
Especially in a particular part of the series where it shows how the authorities, specifically the police officers, were on the payroll of these notorious gangs. In comparison, these authorities were not given full attention throughout the series, even though the series demonstrated that they play a massive and crucial role in developing the gangs in Birmingham.
The portrayal of the various criminal organizations in Peaky Blinders was portrayed with accuracy. The series’ intense and brutal representation of these crimes is done in such an ennoble way that glorifying crimes like murder might appeal to mature viewers but possibly damage younger audiences.
The series’s excessive use of cigarettes, illegal substances, and liquor is presented as a coping mechanism and a standard necessity in life. While watching the show, younger audiences may need parental guidance to avoid misconceptions and misunderstandings. Overall, Peaky Blinders brings an authentic and altogether new narrative to the usual gangster story.
The first season of the Peaky Blinders sufficiently demonstrated the massive dilemmas caused by the First World War in different aspects of Britain. It established the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Thomas and Arthur Shelby and Danny Whizz-Bang. These men battled in the war in France and possessed night terrors and flashbacks, sleepless nights, and reckless behaviors after it.
Thomas Shelby endured nightmares that disrupted his mind to sleep composedly. The existence of PTSD in Arthur Shebly was emotional suffering that dominated his spirit. Lastly, Danny Whizz-Bang had a disturbed mind prompted by unwanted flashbacks mentally that pointed to his foolish behavior affecting his environment.
The show prominently depicted how women became empowered after the war. Aunt Polly Gray’s character illustrated how women in 1919 changed the norms for women as inferior and solely for domestic service. Aunt Polly showed her authority by helping the Shelby’s run their business, directing their family, and serving as their mastermind, along with Thomas Shelby.
Although women obtained their praising role in society after the war, men still presented that toxic masculinity and degradation to women are still apparent. The show portrayed that women gained their function in the community but did not diminish the idea of men being superior.
Peaky Blinders excellently presented the continuity of various conflicts after the victory of the Allied Powers in the First World War. It established the arising conflict with the Irish Republican Army’s revolution and the communists’ eagerness for a classless society. It correlated the IRA’s determination to battle the British Forces with the guns that the Shelby’s accidentally robbed.
The socialists also arose in the series. Freddie Thorne, a communist, made his co-socialists request strikes from the government by convincing them that they suffered in France, but they only received a salary cut. The show portrayed how society at the time significantly regarded economic classes, which communists opposed.
The Peaky Blinders manifested a complete sequence of the timeline showing the impacts of the war. The foundation of the different effects of the war made the series relevant. However, numerous lacking details were not extensively portrayed in the story.
Moreover, the existence of PTSD in the characters is evident. However, it did not discuss how each character overcame that malady. Since the series presented the consequences and favorable outcomes of the First World War, it might influence the readers that bloodshed must occur to achieve the common good. Generally, the storyline was able to sustain its foremost objective — to demonstrate the condition of Britain after the war.
Most of the characters’ motivations, perceptions, and ideals were visibly outlined throughout the series’ first season. Furthermore, the continuity brought by the setting of the war effectively established the morally ambiguous characteristics of the characters.
The series revolves around its main protagonist, Thomas Shelby, a war veteran turned mob boss that leads the Peaky Blinders. In contrast to most lead characters, Thomas Shelby is best described as an anti-hero. His motivations are to establish dominance for their family that holds power within the Birmingham area. However, Thomas also possesses the notable traits of a calculating, well-adept leader who prioritizes family amongst all obligations. Such writing commandeers a well-developed character that adds suspense to the otherwise generic plot point.
The protagonist and the main antagonist share a primary romantic interest – Grace Burgess, an undercover spy serving under Chief Inspector Campbell. Grace’s motivation to avenge her father as a secret agent contrasts with her feelings for Thomas Shelby. The viewer is unsure where her loyalty lies as a conflicting character, adding suspense to the plotline. Even as a critical member of the ensemble cast, the first season’s ending could not establish a complete resolution for the inner conflict being held by the said character.
The main antagonist, Chief Inspector Campbell, was introduced as optimistic and yearning to reclaim the power from the city overrun by The Peaky Blinders. Although notably starting as a morally upright character, after a failed marriage proposal to Grace, Campbell’s jealousy between the looming relationship formed by Grace and Thomas eventually leads him to employ unorthodox methods. Campbell slowly digressed into a suspicious character from an honorable public servant. Such character development was well-established and congruent with the looming plot.
Throughout the first season’s episodes, most of the characters lack a constant moral compass. However, studies have shown that audiences are most likely to agree with morally ambiguous characters if these characters’ motivations are directed towards ideals that are perceived as for the greater good (Krakowiak & Tsay-Vogel, 2013). And as such, the first season of Peaky Blinders was generally able to justify these conditions.
The Peaky Blinders series was able to achieve authenticity within the over-saturated gangster genre. This was done by portraying the realism of the historical-criminal theme without relying on excessively violent narration. Moreover, it is also commendable that the series built a connection with history within its central plot.
The established transition certainly proved that a comprehensive study and analysis of the timeline was performed. The complexity of the roles and their underlying motives for misbehaving and deciding was exceedingly developed. Their motivations, perceptions, and ideas were well expressed and justified within each episode’s given circumstance, leading towards a better engagement for the audiences towards the plot’s character-driven narrative.
However, in light of the negative attributes, audiences should note that Peaky Blinders represents war as the fundamental way to resolve friction and disagreement in conflicting situations to achieve prosperity in society. In addition, some of the show’s subplot is unnecessary for advancing the story’s central narrative. Furthermore, In comparison to the other characters, Grace Burgess is not depicted with the same quality of in-character writing. And as such, she was underdeveloped and unutilized in the show’s first season. The second season should give greater importance to Grace.