This review contains spoilers.
A year has passed since Tommy Shelby and the Peaky Blinders were last on our screens, and it has been a long wait for the return of Steven Knight’s superlative drama. We join the gang two years after the events of the first series finale with an explosive opening – literally. The Shelbys find themselves with more cash and power than ever before, with their business thriving and the family making money hand over fist. More influence and money inevitably means more enemies.
Even in the opening moments, it is clear that the stakes are being raised for the second series. Tommy’s ambition, a character-defining trait in the first series, is driving the Peaky Blinders down to London in a move that can only be branded as an aggressive expansion. With dissent in the ranks, it quickly becomes clear that the gang’s foray in to London may not be as clear-cut as Tommy intends.
In terms of plotting, lots of heavy lifting is necessary to show us how the last two years have affected the cast, and it is handled deftly. This is a testament to the show’s strong writing, which not only provides sparky dialogue, but a well-crafted opening episode.
As you might expect, Cillian Murphy’s turn as Tommy remains the show’s core and is as bewitching as ever. In the first series, Tommy was struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after fighting on the frontline of the First World War. Now he has the additional burden of being without his beloved Grace, and this comes across well without ever being too on-the-nose.
The ensemble cast remains as strong as before too, with Helen McCrory – who was wonderful as Polly first time around – and Sam Neill among the best performers. Much like Tommy, Polly still has her own cross to bear, and in an intense séance scene, McCrory shows her range terrifically. The predictable reveal that Neill’s Major Campbell survived the attempt on his life is still devilishly enjoyable. The ominous clanking of his cane as he stalks the corridors of a dank prison is oddly reminiscent of Elle Driver’s introduction in Kill Bill in its intent.
Stylistically, the show has not strayed too far from its successful formula. Imaginative shots and angles are used throughout, and the muted colour palette remains in place – save for one scene, where the Shelbys stray to London and invade a jazz club. The vibrant scene highlights the dichotomy between Peaky Blinders territory in the Midlands, and the hubbub of the capital.
The use of modern music in the soundtrack returns too, which, rather than jarring with the drama’s context, adds a verve and energy to proceedings.
Not straying far from its formula is perhaps the one problem with the episode. For all there is to like about the series opener, it is hard to shake the feeling that it could have done more. The first series was a breath of fresh air, taking risks in terms of style and setting. It burst out of the gates with a definite vision, and this episode retains that panache. There are comparatively few risks, though. It is only early days, but the Shelby expansion into London feels like a reheated version of the gang’s efforts to control Birmingham that dominated the first series.
All in all, it is much of the same from Peaky Blinders. It remains exactly as you remember, with great performances, strong writing and a distinctive visual style. Nobody ever said more of the same was a bad thing. Let’s just hope for a few more of the risks that permeated the first run.
Read our interview with Peaky Blinders’ director, Colm McCarthy, here.
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