This review contains spoilers.
As a writer on the internet, one of the worst things you can do is read the comments left on your work. Even for the least neurotic among us, comments left by others make you question your own original feelings and opinions. Reviews are meant to stir debate and discussion, certainly, but after last week’s review, I was surprised at the overwhelming negativity directed towards the opening episode of Peaky Blinders. I certainly questioned whether I was too effusive in my praise for the programme. Having now seen the second episode, I can safely say I feel reassured in my original assertions that this is one of the best BBC dramas in a while.
Last week’s opener was a bombastic, brash affair full of rock star swagger and confidence. This second installment is equally confident, but is more focused on character, and developing the relationships between the cast. The decision to do this is wise, with events unfolding at a steady, satisfying pace, while doing a great deal to establish who these people really are.
The episode opens with a brutally violent confrontation between the Shelby boys and the Lee family, a cohort of gypsy travellers carrying out a deal with Tommy, leader of the Peaky Blinders. You really see where the gang gets its name from here, and the visceral nature of the scene could turn the stomachs of the weak-hearted.
The clash is all part of Tommy’s machinations to establish a working relationship with the notorious Billy Kimber, who has built a horse racing empire spread across the country. His devious scheming seems to bring him what he wants, though there are times where it is clear Tommy may be biting off more than he can chew. The episode ends with a climactic confrontation between Kimber and his henchmen, and the Shelbys. The scene crackles. Charlie Creed Miles, whose accent sounds like it fell straight out of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, brings unhinged arrogance to Kimber, and he feels like another legitimate threat to the Peaky Blinders.
The scene is one of many intimate conversations shared between characters at close quarters. All of these are shot inventively and to great effect. In the deal-making discussion between Tommy and Neill’s Chief Inspector Campbell, there is a distinctive shot of Sam Neill with half of his face obstructed by what I presume is Cillian Murphy’s shoulder, leaving only his eyes in shot.
Otto Bathurst’s direction and George Steel’s cinematography is really strong, and is matched by strong writing and a number of excellent performances. Cillian Murphy is predictably brilliant, and there is another powerful showing from Neill, a mixture of intense rhetoric and controlled conniving, but Helen McCrory really proves her worth as Aunt Polly.
If Tommy is the brains of the family, Polly is the beating heart of it, though certainly not in a warm, motherly way. She is looking out for her family, but make no mistake, Polly does not seem the sort of woman you want to cross. McCrory really comes to the fore through her scenes with Murphy, and an excellent scene with Sam Neill. It was great to see her character get more screen time this week.
Like last week, the impact of the Great War is being still being felt by our cast. As yet, we have still to truly delve into Tommy’s anguish following the events of the War. However, it is proving an intriguing side threat, and one that looks like it will be greatly expanded upon.
The burgeoning relationship between Tommy and Grace should prove a further point of interest. Annabelle Wallis plays Grace with a delicacy of touch, portraying the character’s duality – a gentle Irish flower, and a schemer working with Inspector Campbell – well. You can see why Tommy might develop feelings for her, she’s enchanting. There is more to come from this, and it will be entertaining to see where it goes.
There are criticisms to be made, however. There are times where some of the Brummy accents sound laboured, particularly at moments of dramatic confrontation. I could be wrong on that – maybe my southern bumpkin’s ear is not attuned to the northern tones just yet, but there were a few moments where even Murphy’s accent sounded weak. As a Devonian lad I am probably the last person that should be commenting on the authenticity of northern accents, though.
If Winston Churchill is shoe-horned into another episode, that could get irritating. Andy Nyman’s portrayal is passable, but the appearances of Churchill seem unnecessary. It would have been far more interesting to create a shady character working for the Home Office instead of using Churchill as a touchstone to represent unrest and difficult times.
I also did not care too much for the pregnancy storyline. It gave McCrory one great scene – she really is in impeccable form in this episode – but it was the weakest and most well-trodden link of this week’s developments. Perhaps the storyline may yet turn up an interesting resolution but we will wait and see.
Despite those criticisms, it is a strong second episode for Peaky Blinders. This second instalment is worth checking out by anyone who did not enjoy the explosive nature of the series opener, with its intimate scenes and character-driven plot development. If not, then fair enough, but you are missing out on a gripping crime drama.
Read Tom’s review of the previous episode, here.
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