This review contains spoilers.
Peaky Blinders series four was… monumental. Right from this show’s first ever episode when Tommy Shelby rode into town and had a magic spell cast on his racehorse, it’s always felt mythic, but this was something else. Series four was ambitious, accomplished and swaggeringly confident, with a hand of tricks—Polly’s fake betrayal, Arthur’s ‘death’—played to maximum effect. Surprises and action rushed around the feet of now-towering characters, and as always, the main plot was echoed in a layer of symbolism.
The boxing match pitting big against small, for instance, acted as a dumbshow for Tommy’s plan, a version in miniature. To the baying crowd, Bonnie Gold looked as though he was on the ropes with no chance of a comeback. But just like Tommy, he was secretly in control all along. One crafty wink to his dad and a few words in a gypsy tongue and Bonnie’s pasting turned out to be nothing more than panto. Round four, he came back swinging and just like Tommy, took the win.
Arthur’s ‘murder’ was also theatre. Ever since Tommy shot a load of sheep brains into Danny Whizz-Bang’s head, he’s understood the importance of pantomime deaths. The master of turning bad fortune into good, Tommy looked at his injured brother and saw an opportunity to end the war with the Changrettas. What seemed to us like him grieving over Arthur’s body was actually that dangerous mind working out a plan.
And for fifteen minutes, I fell for it. The public declaration, the funeral procession, the giving-in… even if I didn’t want to believe it, I did. You could reason there was a neat symmetry about losing John in episode one and Arthur in episode six. The already-commissioned next series would look lopsided and feel wan without the brutality and comedy provided by the brilliant Paul Anderson, but if this was the endgame, I thought, so be it.
What a mug. Back came Arthur to do his job, avenge John’s death and deliver his catchphrase. You do not fuck with the Peaky fucking Blinders. No, not when they’re mates with Al Capone, you don’t.
Ultimately, Luca Changretta overplayed his hand and lost everything. Cash is no replacement for blood loyalty, and his goons took a higher offer leaving him vulnerable to Arthur’s bullet. That was a beautifully filmed moment, with Arthur arriving as if conjured up like a golem, and the detail of the gin spurting out from the bullet hole in the still.
The finale was full of beautiful shots. The Margate beach scenes felt so airy and spacious compared to the dinge of Small Heath we’ve seen all series that it might as well have been heaven to the Garrison’s hell. Those stunning wide shots typify the scope of Peaky Blinders’ cinematic ambition. Director David Caffrey and the photography team have done an excellent job.
As, of course, has Steven Knight on the script. I loved the slipperiness of Tommy’s reply to Lizzy when she asked what he was going to do about Luca coming to take everything away. “We’re going to let him have it,” he said, and they did that alright. And as for “I know what this is. It’s just myself talking to myself about myself,” that’s an enchanted thing to hear come out of the mouth of a TV character.
Thanks to Tom Hardy, every word that comes out of Alfie Solomons’ mouth is enchanted, whether he’s muttering about dogs or waxing lyrical on moribund revelations. This finale wasn’t goodbye for Arthur, but it looks to have been for Alfie. Fingers crossed somebody took pity on poor Cyril.
Putting a gag about a dog in a western quick-draw standoff is typical of Peaky Blinders’ draw. It can be beautiful and mythic and funny all at the same time. From Polly’s dry wit (who couldn’t love her response to Tommy’s “I’ve had an idea”? Oh fuck, indeed) to Arthur’s comedy, not to mention the joys of Curly, the show doesn’t get enough credit for its wicked sense of humour.
It’s wicked alright. What could be more wicked than Tommy Shelby, MP and double agent for the crown, working to suppress Socialist revolution? They’d better watch out, Tommy’s starting to have had a hand in more twentieth-century historical moments than Forrest Gump.
This trip back to Small Heath this series has depicted the Shelby family as a kind of infection. It spread through honest working men (what joy for Tommy to have found his conscience and set that foreman free), it turned pious Linda into a coke-snorting, gin-guzzling, swearing bookie (instead of her cleansing Arthur’s soul, he’s corrupted hers), it’s made a killer of sweet Finn, a gangster of young Michael, and now, the Shelby disease is on its way to Whitehall to wreak what havoc it can. Talk about shaking hands with devils.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.