I’m a big Peaky Blinders fan, and I loved the first two series. I found the characters intriguing and I thought the show was stylistically brilliant. The sets and locations were wonderfully atmospheric, and the costumes were just fabulous. I liked the suits and the watch chains, and the shirts with the collar stud and no tie. I liked the ankle-grazing trousers, the flat caps and the billowing coats, and I was very taken with the Peaky haircut. I liked Polly’s messy chic, and the floaty frocks some of the other characters wore. I was especially pleased with the soundtrack, because it featured some of my favourite music. I pretty much loved everything about the show, except for Sam Neill’s arch-villain, but then no one is supposed to like him. Peaky Blinder World was fantasy, altered reality, visually beautiful, and I loved the whole thing.
Anyway, I finally got around to watching the third season on DVD. What a big disappointment that was!* The first indication that something was not quite right came in the opening scenes when I saw Tommy Shelby’s haircut. The sides of his head were no longer shaved and his appearance was almost conventional. I used to find it interesting that Tommy’s limpid and innocent blue eyes, and his beautiful facial bone structure, were at odds with his sometimes brutal behaviour, just as his brutal behaviour was at odds with the vulnerability and tenderness he sometimes displayed. Tommy Shelby was a wonderful invention, a complex and contradictory man, a bad man who wasn’t a bastard. It was easy to feel empathy for Tommy and to care about what happened to him. However, in series three, I felt that Tommy was just boorish, greedy and stupid. Even his interactions with Grace, which used to light up the screen, were cold and perfunctory. I could almost see the seams stitching the scenes together; I could see the actors being actors – move here, sit there, speak, emote, etc., – with the heavy, heavy, hand of the director seeming to weigh it all down.
In truth, it felt as though I were watching a whole other show. There was no spark, no levity, no light and shade – it was all dark, all the time, and relentlessly alienating. The plot was convoluted almost to the point of incomprehension, the new villain was bland, and the licentious and corrupt Russian aristocratic family was a total cliche. Tom Hardy’s turn as the Jewish crime boss was way over the top, and oh, sod it, the whole thing was just so utterly disappointing! Even poor Arthur was made to get religion and be under the thumb of a manipulative, hypocritical wife. And don’t get me started on Polly, whose character has gone from being feisty and fearsome, to being a lady-like bourgeois social climber. Somehow Ada has miraculously become middle-class, Esme is reduced to being a drug-addicted baby-maker, and Lizzie still hangs around even though everyone disrespects her. Michael commits his first murders, John sheds sentimental tears, and all the while Tommy scowls and mutters and orders everyone about. The thing is, Tommy isn’t nearly as tough or as clever as he was in the first two series. Stupidly, he thinks that money can buy social class, and his hubris is his undoing. Having Thomas Shelby snivel and grovel and almost beaten to death might have made a nice change for Cillian Murphy and allowed him to flex his acting chops, but the Tommy Shelby of series one and two was far too street smart to get done over like that. In short, in this series, nothing added up and nothing made any sense. I didn’t buy any of it, and I felt short-changed when Grace was killed off. Viewers had a lot invested in the Tommy-Grace relationship and it felt all wrong to have her pop her clogs so soon. I think that Grace deserved better treatment, because it was through her that we were able to see Tommy’s humanity, and it was their relationship that made the show more than just the doings of a violent rabble.
I hope that series four gets back on track. I’m not waiting with impatience for new episodes. I’m still trying to get my head around the dangling plot threads and that ending, which might have been the most unrewarding thing I’ve seen on the screen in a very long while. Apparently, filming of series four begins in a couple of months, and the show might be out by the end of the year. I won’t be holding my breath for the return of the magic, though.
* This is the reason why I haven’t watched Victoria or War and Peace, yet. I’m worried they won’t live up to my expectations and I’ll be horribly disappointed. I’m looking at you, Poldark. *shudder*