Drama from the Brits
By Jim Poling
Published Dec. 7, 2017
I’ve not been caught up in and enraptured by the romantic British drama of Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle.
Much of the world has and is feverishly awaiting answers to the big questions: When exactly will the wedding be? What will she wear? Will Harry shave for the wedding? Will they get pregnant immediately?
I haven’t had time for the American princess drama. Too busy with another British drama, the BBC television series Peaky Blinders.
Peaky Blinders is a captivating but raw show about a family street gang operating in the industrial slums of Birmingham in the early 1920s. The gang was into a variety of thuggery and corruption, plus illegal betting, horse-race fixing, extortion and murder.
The Peaky Blinders was a real life Birmingham gang, but its story is heavily fictionalized in the BBC show. It operated between the late 1880s and the start of the First World War in 1914. The show sets the heyday of the Blinders much later - after that war and into the early 1920s.
The name Peaky Blinders comes from the peaked Tweed flat caps worn by its members. A gang member would head butt a person, the peak of the cap striking the victim across the eyes, temporarily blinding him. Another version of gang history has members sewing razor blades into cap peaks.
The caps were specially popular among working class men and teenagers in the late 1880s.
The show follows the gang family’s rise from basic street thugs to a sophisticated criminal organization that has police and politicians in its pocket. Thomas Shelby, played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy, is the leader of the gang, composed of his brothers, an aunt and a passel of petty criminals.
Variety, the weekly American entertainment magazine and website, gave the show a brutal review after it first appeared in autumn 2013. It has played three seasons now and a fourth is planned. The first three seasons have been picked up by Netflix.
“Handsome but hollow,” wrote Variety reviewer Brian Lowry. “Even armed with razor blades, it doesn’t quite cut it.”
Lowry’s definitely was a minority opinion. Variety’s website was plugged with comments from viewers who did not agree with the review.
“This series is phenomenal!!!’ wrote one commenter. “Hollywood is incapable of putting out this quality.” (I tend to agree. Hollywood is slipping behind overseas productions).
Peaky Blinders is a very watchable story with suspense, unexpected twists and a great portrayal of a hard-nosed, tough-talking family whose members, despite their differences, are truly bonded to each other. Characters are well played and the dialogue is excellent, something we have come to expect from British shows.
The show is brutally raw, increasingly so as the series progresses. The violence moves from general thumpings and knifings to the gun play you expect from American television.
Ditto the sex scenes, which leave little to the imagination as the series rolls along. The final episode of Season 3 features an orgy the likes of which I’ve never seen on TV.
Season 3 was close to being overdone. It confirms my belief that television series are best ended after one or two seasons. When they run longer, producers and writers stretch to get stuff that will titillate viewers.
What I like best about Peaky Blinders is the showing of what life was like in Birmingham (and many other cities) 100 years ago. The poverty, the lack of education, the corruption and the moral rot.
We have come a long way since then. British and North American societies are better today: more civilized, better educated, morally elevated and have learned better health habits. (Tommy Shelby smokes a cigarette in almost every scene).
On second thought, are we really that better today?
We dress better, eat better, have more and better appliances and toys. However, the disparity between our haves and have-nots grows alarmingly, jobs continue to disappear, drug addiction is at a crisis level, gun violence is a daily occurrence in our big cities. Corruption and moral rot remain features of our political systems.
The Harry and Meghan drama, like Peaky Blinders, is a temporary escape from the world around us. And, I guess that’s a good thing.