This review contains spoilers.
Well that was more like it. Last week’s episode of Peaky Blinders felt like the return of a show with much to like, but not quite firing on all cylinders. The second episode felt like a top drama much closer to reaching top gear.
It helps that the episode starts strongly, with Tommy hauled to hospital after his beating at the hands of Sabini’s gang. While in hospital, his one visitor proves to be his nemesis, Major Campbell. Much like their meetings in the first series, the scene crackles with repartee and showcases two great actors at the top of their game. The exchange has a real sense of ebb and flow to it. The symbolic visual of a battered Tommy matches the sense that for now, Campbell has Tommy Shelby exactly where he wants him.
Grace continues to enter the thoughts of both Tommy and Campbell, and her departure continues to haunt Tommy. Assuming she returns later in the series (pure speculation on my part), it will be intriguing to see how it affects the duo.
The episode keeps up the pace, swiftly introducing Tom Hardy’s gang boss Alfie Solomons and further establishing his main rival, Darby Sabini. Getting Tom Hardy to appear on Peaky Blinders was something of a coup for the casting team, and one that pays immediate dividends.
The exchange between Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy is intense – brilliantly so. Solomons is immediately engaging, coming across as eccentric, sadistic and damaged all at once. The performance evokes elements of Hardy roles of the past, and the character fits seamlessly into the world of Peaky Blinders. Noah Taylor, fresh from his role in Game Of Thrones, brings an unhinged rage to Sabini.
An unhinged rage consumes Arthur too, as he continues to battle Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The war continues to cast a shadow over the lives of those involved, and it is good to see that it has not been forgotten. Paul Anderson handles Arthur’s anguish with intelligent restraint in another solid supporting performance.
It may not have been mentioned often in these reviews, but the sets and costumes on Peaky Blinders are truly excellent. They make a huge contribution to the visual feel of the series. The soundtrack, so often the heartbeat of the first series, also comes to the fore once again. The list of artists involved now feels more varied, with PJ Harvey, Arctic Monkeys and The Kills among those to contribute songs. Using a wider variety of artists may be a minor change, but it is a welcome one and gives the series a slightly different flavour than before.
The episode isn’t fault-free. The inclusion of Winston Churchill in the first series was trite and it feels just as unnecessary here. An original character – a shady member of the Home Office – would have been far more interesting and offered the writers more creative freedom. Instead, the writers elected to use Churchill as a cultural touchstone that feels like it was crowbarred into proceedings.
Besides that minor grumble, there is so much here to like. Bringing Tom Hardy into proceedings is more than welcome, and the show is back to its gripping best.
Read Tom’s review of the previous episode, here.
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