DVD Review: Peaky Blinders

peaky-binders-11414It’s an odd name, but we’ll address that in a minute. Main thing is that this is a first-rate series. Season 2 just started, but Season 1 is readily available to all Netflix streamers.

It’s “The Godfather” with an English accent. Cillian Murphy is Tommy Shelby, head of a family of gangsters in post-World War I Birmingham. He’s a hard case and, in many respects, a head case. The genius of the series is the way psychological portraiture has an equal seat at the table with the plot. In this respect, “Peaky Blinders” goes deeper that “The Godfather,” in which only the characters of Don Vito and son Michael were studied in depth. In “Peaky Blinders,” everyone goes under the microscope.

Like “Deadwood,” where the good guys had alarming flaws and the bad guys often had the better moral compass, there are no innocents and few ogres in “Peaky Blinders.”

A word about the plot. A few of the boys steal freight from a train depot and discover, to their very great surprise, that among the booty is a formidable shipment of British military weaponry bound for Libya. Should all these machine guns and ammo fall into the wrong hands — the IRA, for example — it would be a dark day for the crown.

An enraged Winston Churchill (Andy Nyman) dispatches the dogged chief inspector, Chester Campbell (Sam Neill), to recover the ordnance. And the chase is on. Neill is simply fantastic. His determination brings to mind Javert, the obsessed police inspector who pursued Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables.” Tommy knows he’s got a tiger by the tail and a bloodhound on his trail. But he’s a cool hand. He’s also a tortured soul with flashbacks to ghastly hand-to-hand trench fighting during the war.

Comparisons, including our own invocation of the Corleone family, can’t do justice. It’s an English period drama but nothing like “Downton Abbey.” It’s a tale of urban gangsters, but it’s not “Boardwalk Empire.” Which is to say, it’s an original. Fascinating characters, atmospheric, intelligent and rich in subplots, you could hardly wish for a better night’s entertainment.

Oh, about the name. The members of the Peaky Blinders gang sew razor blades into the peaks of their caps, rendering them more deadly than Odd Job’s top hat.

Stephen Fay

Stephen Fay

Managing Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American since 1996, is a third-generation Californian. Starting out as a news reporter in 1974, he has been an editor since 1976, working in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont before settling in Ellsworth with his wife and two daughters. [email protected]

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