This review contains spoilers.
What a finale that was. If the BBC hadn’t already renewed Peaky Blinders for series four and five, the send-a-newsboy-cap-to-the-commissioner postal campaign would have started here. Happily, we can all save our money and bask in the glow of some terrific television safe in the knowledge it’s not going anywhere yet.
Which is more than can be said for most of the Shelbys, last seen being herded into a fleet of police cars. Of the many threats hanging over the family’s heads this series—mad Russians, vengeful Italians, evil priests—the law was the last thing anyone, not least them, saw coming. They’ve acted with impunity for years, cutting, shooting, intimidating and bribing their way to fine houses and stacks of cash. The simple idea that they could be arrested for committing crime didn’t even occur. It’s almost quaint.
It’s also a brilliant hook for series four. The practical and emotional fallout from Tommy’s “trust me, brother” deal will be fascinating. Has he saved the family, or sacrificed them? Will they trust him again, or is the Shelby Company Ltd now primed to stage a revolution against its own tsar?
What’s always satisfying about a series of Peaky Blinders is how much ground passes underneath its feet in the space of six episodes. Save for last week’s heady, indulgent interlude, this run was no different. For the most part, series three galloped through yards of plot and accelerated for the final fence in true Peakies style.
The action sequence cutting between Tommy’s tunnel, Arthur’s explosion and Michael’s confrontation with Father Hughes made for a gripping crescendo. Three separate acts, each dependent on the other and any one of which would have topped another, less ambitious show solo, ramped up to a bloody, explosive climax. And with Tommy’s survival the only sure thing in any Peaky Blinders series finale, there was real peril in Arthur’s drunken, despondent train blast and Michael’s amateurish assassination of the priest.
The finale marked Michael’s true initiation into the Peaky Blinders. The glazed frenzy of Finn Cole’s expression when Michael returned from cutting Hughes’ throat told us and Pol that he was now lost to violence. Against all her wishes, Polly’s son had crossed the line from legitimacy to criminality to become part of the world so evocatively described by Alfie Solomons in the episode’s strongest scene.
Tom Hardy is always a highlight here. His voice, his grunts, his out-of-place terms of endearment (Alfie must be the only man alive who can get away with calling Tommy Shelby ‘Sweetie’)… add to all that his ability to switch from mumbling about sciatica to raging about damnation and honour in a speech so impassioned it rivals even Major Campbell’s series one diatribes, and it all adds up to a character you can’t help waiting to appear.
Enough praise at Hardy’s feet though. Cillian Murphy is the one who’s successfully gone head to head with him and every other larger-than-life villain Peaky Blinders has created since the start. However strong the supporting cast (and with regulars McCrory and Anderson, it’s unbreakably so), this whole thing rests on Murphy’s shoulders. If he didn’t have the range to play the desperation, vulnerability and unmuzzled rage beneath Tommy’s coolly distant leadership, Peaky Blinders would crumble. Murphy can do it all.
He’s helped along by the most expressive cinematography and production design currently on TV. This show has always been skilfully composed, but series three’s move into Tommy’s stately home has introduced a sense of formality and symmetry that belies and balances the rattling chaos of the plot.
It also provides unignorable symbolism. Tommy desperately digging through dank filth, past creaking barely-coping supports, with the weight of the Thames threatening to come down on him at any moment is as good an image as you’d want to describe his situation this year. “You move too fast, Thomas” his fellow claykicker told him. He’s had no choice. That’s been Tommy’s predicament for as long as we’ve known him.
Something’s about to change though, that much is clear from Tommy’s final speech to the assembled Shelbys. Alfie’s words having struck a nerve, not to mention the Russians and Section D using him and his family like toys, Tommy realised that social acceptance was never going to come for them. To see that, you need only think back to the held-nose attitudes of bride’s side at the series-opening wedding, or to the shiver of awkwardness that ran through the well-to-do front rows at the Foundation opening when Arthur delivered the Peaky Blinders’ catchphrase.
Series three has been a lesson for Tommy on power. What it really means, who really has it, and the social structures keeping it in fixed place. He realises now that no matter how many medals he brought back from the war, how much tea and cake he has with the Lord Mayor, or how many smiling pictures there are of him in the newspaper, the outside world will always see him as a thug from the Garrison. He ends this series having remembered himself and promising to get what he wants his own way. And thank God, Steven Knight and the BBC, we get to watch him do it.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.