Missed one of the best dramas to hit our TV screens? Fear not, as Natalie guides you through the tumultuous lives of real-life Birmingham gangsters as we prepare for the third series…
Ruthless gangsters The Peaky Blinders burst onto our screens in 2013 quite literally all guns blazing. The period drama, set in rural 1920s Birmingham, in the aftermath of the First World War, is based on a true story of the lives of Brummie gangsters named the Peaky Blinders, masters of the black market and as dangerous as they come.
The BBC Two drama, created by British screenwriter and film director Steven Knight, follows gangster family The Shelbys, led by Tommy Shelby, who make their money from illegal betting and get their kicks from punching seven shades out of anyone brave, or stupid, enough to stand in their way.
Although criticised for some of the actors’ questionable imitations of the Brummie accent, Peaky Blinders has received enough praise to overshadow this minor negativity. The first two series were quite rightly lauded. Terrific scenes and excellent acting, most notably from Cillian Murphy who plays main character Tommy, paved the way for a third series to be commissioned, which is set to be aired later this year.
So what’s happened so far? Series One introduced us to the Peaky Blinders, named so because of the razor blades sewn into the peaks of their caps. Working class men, but well dressed and well equipped to run their city, making them Birmingham’s most feared criminals. And when a crate of guns falls into the hands of Tommy Shelby, after they went missing from an arms factory, he sees this as an opportunity to grow his empire.
But in this merciless game, making enemies is hard to avoid. Billy Kimber, who runs the race courses, is wary of the Blinders who are now beginning to fix the races. And amidst a turf war with a family of gypsies, the Shelbys are also being watched by ruthless Chief Inspector Campbell, drafted in from Northern Ireland to clean up the city’s act; and this means getting rid of the Peaky Blinders.
It’s clear he’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants and becomes obsessed with taking the gang down. But the Shelbys are just as determined to get what they want; and are cunning and clever enough to get just that.
The series builds to a tense finale; with the climax coming as the Shelbys and the Lee family of gypsies unite for a face-off with Kimber and his men. A gun battle ensues, and Kimber is killed, leaving the Peaky Blinders with a lot more than they started with: the city, and now the race courses.
Series Two begins in 1921, two years after we left the Peaky Blinders, who have yet more troubles to contend with. It’s just as thrilling as Series One, but more bloodthirsty and violent; with scenes of rape, fighting, and many of the characters left with blood on their hands.
The beginning of the series sees their pub, The Garrison, bombed, exposing the fact that the gang remain targets for their enemies still. But that doesn’t stop Tommy, who is adamant on expanding his empire, and taking his betting business to the capital.
Troubles within the family also surface. Arthur, Tommy’s elder brother, is becoming increasingly unstable and angry, leading him to kill someone in the boxing ring. Polly, auntie and mother-figure to the Blinders, is on the search for the children she was forced to give up when she was younger, and Tommy is yet again on hand to help her in her quest to be reunited.
Tommy’s ploy to buy a racehorse to help them infiltrate the courses is yet another one of his genius ideas, but on Derby Day at Epsom Thomas Shelby is planning to kill a man, a Field Marshall, on the orders of Major Campbell, to start a civil war in Ireland. On top of this, the Peaky Blinders are looking to destroy the bookies owned by gangster Sabini to really infiltrate the race courses and become top dogs.
In the most cunning and clever plan yet, the gang seem to be set to pull it off – and in some style. But Major Campbell is also planning to kill a man, and has hired assassins to murder Tommy. But before he can pull this off, Aunt Polly is on hand for some of her own revenge, shooting Major Campbell and giving him a final warning as he takes his last few breaths: “Don’t fuck with the Peaky Blinders.”
But he seems to have done just that, with Tommy being taken to a field with an open grave and three men stand before him, ready to pull the trigger. As he stands with an air of pride, ready to take the bullet, the most shocking and unexpected twist of the series so far occurs.
This sets us up very nicely indeed for a third – and hopefully not final – series of the Peaky Blinders, who have taken on the dark underworld of the black market and come out on top. But for how long? A dice with death would knock sense into any man, but Tommy Shelby is different: he’s ambitious, determined, and with Major Campbell now off the scene, can anyone stop him and the Shelby family as they expand their criminal business even further?
The Real Peaky Blinders
The Birmingham television series is based on a group of real, and ruthless, gangsters. But who were the real Peaky Blinders, and is Steven Knight’s depiction of them as close to the truth as possible?
The time. The gang were actually around in the 1890s, rather than the 1920s post-war Birmingham in which the series is set. The real Peaky Blinders actually disappeared before the first-world war, and other gangs took centre stage in Birmingham’s 1920s.
The weapons. It’s highly unlikely that the gangsters actually had razor blades in their caps; primarily because they would have been too expensive for the working-class Peaky Blinders, as razor blades were only coming in during the 1890s.
The pub. The Garrison pub is, however, very real; it has been used for years by football fans of Birmingham City, but since the decline of the city centre pub trade, it stood empty for over a year and was sold at auction for £183k in May 2014.