Are you watching Peaky Blinders? Television’s worst-kept secret concludes another blinding season this week. Essentially a Brummie Boardwalk Empire, Steven Knight’s acclaimed period crime drama is one of gangsters and guns, family rivalries and flat caps, buzz cuts and black country accents. There are countless reasons why you should be watching – but here’s ten. There’s really no excuse now.
1. It’s really good
There are few better reasons to watch a show than “because it’s good”. The consensus is there: all three of its seasons have debuted to rave reviews – one critic called it “the most intelligent, stylish and engrossing BBC drama in ages” – with the show as a whole currently sitting at 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. With season 3 debuting to more gushing praise, Peaky Blinders can comfortably count itself among the golden age of television, alongside the likes of The Wire, Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos.
2. It stars some of the finest actors working today
For a midweek BBC Two television show, Peaky Blinders has a cast list more likely to be found on a film poster. Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, and Noah Taylor have all starred; Paddy Considine joined the latest series as villainous priest Father Hughes; Tom Hardy borrows his Ronnie Kray accent to play Jewish gang leader Alfie Solomons; while Cillian Murphy, as gang leader Tommy Shelby, arguably gives the defining performance of his career to date. There are few places on the small screen where you’ll find actors of this calibre sparkling off one another.
3. It’s based on real history
If you were thinking, “Peaky Blinders is a strange name for serious crime drama”, that’s because it’s taken from real life. The whole series is loosely based on a real criminal gang known as the Peaky Blinders, who rose to prominence in Birmingham during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Said to be named after the practice of stitching razor blades into trademark flat caps (which they would then use to slash the foreheads of their victims, thus blinding them with blood), the TV show’s plot interweaves real life characters – a young Winston Churchill pops up occasionally – with fictionalised elements. Season 1 is set in 1919, shortly after the World War I; the second season begins two years later, and the third two years after that.
4. It’s the brainchild of a bona fide Brummie
Steven Knight – best known for his screenwriting on films like Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, plus the fiercely original Locke – created the series, and writes every episode. Knight grew up in Birmingham, and has said that many elements of the plot are drawn from stories he was told by his family. “My parents, particularly my dad, had these tantalising memories of from when he was nine or ten years old,” Knight said in an interview. “They were incredibly well dressed, they were incredibly powerful, they had a lot of money in an area where no-one had money and... they were gangsters!”
5. It boasts lavish production values
Taking a cue from the likes of HBO and AMC in the US, the BBC have chucked abundant resources into the series. Each episode is estimated to cost somewhere between £1m and £1.5m; the result is a lavish, richly detailed, beautifully constructed piece of art. Clever, occasional use of CGI enhances the historical context, while sumptuous cinematography engenders a vivid, elegant aesthethic. Some of television’s best directors have been behind the camera, including Tom Harper (War & Peace), Colm McCarthy (Sherlock), and Tim Mielants (The Tunnel).
6. Famous people like it
Peaky Blinders fans are in good company. Among their number are master filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Michael Mann; Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise are also said to be addicted; author and The Wire writer Dennis Lehane is an admirer. Perhaps the show’s unlikeliest fan? Snoop Dogg. The rapper even got in touch with Knight to express his love for the show, and according to Knight the pair spent three hours in a London hotel “just building joints” while D-O-Double-G waxed lyrical “about how the show reminded him of how he got into gang culture”.
7. You've never seen Birmingham look like this
Britain’s second city has a somewhat unenviable reputation as being a bit grim, to the extent that some droll local residents once started a campaign entitled “Birmingham: It’s Not Shit”. But this is not the Birmingham you know. Peaky Blinders finds a strange industrial beauty in the Victorian slums and murky side streets of the city, and challenges its frequently undeserved reputation. “When looked at it in a certain way, something that’s considered to be conventionally ugly is actually beautiful,” says Knight. “That’s Birmingham.”
8. The soundtrack is incredible
Despite being set in the early 20th century, Peaky Blinders has blisteringly cool modern soundtrack. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds provide the theme music with Red Right Hand, and it only gets cooler from there: Johnny Cash’s soporific cover of Danny Boy has featured, as have Radiohead, PJ Harvey and Royal Blood. Perhaps most impressive of all: David Bowie – another famous fan of the show – actually requested his music be featured, shortly before he died, and even sent Knight a photo of himself wearing a Peaky Blinders flat cap.
9. You can binge it on Netflix
The success of the show has naturally attracted the attention of American eyes and ears. Uber-producer Harvey Weinstein quickly snapped up the rights to the show, and sold them to Netflix, who currently have seasons 1 and 2 in full, in both the UK and the US, ripe for the binging. Episodes from season 3 are arriving only three weeks after its original UK broadcast in the US, and the whole season will be available on Netflix soon.
10. There's at least two more seasons to look forward to
Thanks, in part, to the enormous American popularity of show generated by Netflix, the BBC decided in May to commission both season 4 and 5, a move that executive producer Caryn Mandabach called “a fantastic vote of confidence in the show and Steven Knight’s writing”. Cillian Murphy has also confirmed to return. Knight is keeping his cards close to his chest on what to expect, but further time jumps in history are likely: according to Knight, the final episode will end with the first air raid sirens of World War II.
The season finale of Peaky Blinders airs Thursday on BBC Two at 9pm, and will be on Netflix in due course.