Peaky Blinders series four review

Ladies and gentlemen, by order of the Peaky Blinders, I give you Thomas Shelby OBE and Labour MP for Birmingham.

In episode one of series four of Steven Knight’s mega-hit Peaky Blinders we learned that gangster Tommy Shelby had been made an OBE. In episode six we learned he had become a Labour MP. In between we witnessed bloody violence, gin distilling and a sad departure of a key family member.

There’s no denying that Peaky Blinders is completely bonkers, but the eccentricities of the series are what make it such an entrancing watch. The thrilling nature of this BBC Two gem is what enthralls audiences from around the globe, making it possibly the best gangster drama to ever come out of Britain.

As always, the series played out over just six episodes. Perhaps not enough, the series saw the Shelby family back on home turf in Small Heath and seemingly out of their depth for the first time. Adrien Brody joined the ensemble as Luca Changretta; the family’s most dangerous foe yet and Aiden Gillen stepped in as Aberama Gold; a new ally with a penchant for killing people.

Peaky Blinders doesn’t need Hollywood talent to attract viewers or make its mark, but the writers and creators utilise these big names well. Tom Hardy returned for the final time as Alfie Solomons and proved – once again – he’s not a friend to Tommy and co’. While there is joy in seeing such big names play exciting roles it’s Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson and Helen McCrory who we come to see. Anderson was particularly outstanding in this series, proving what a stellar talent he is as he embodies Arthur; the oldest and most troubled brother.

Series four played around with various themes, namely guilt and grief. With the loss of John and the arrival of Changretta – the son of an Italian gangster Arthur murdered in series two – the whole Peaky crew were on high alert and questioning their morals, or lack of. Polly claimed her experience with the noose had irrevocably changed her, while Arthur came face to face with the mother of the teenage boy he killed in the boxing ring in series one. This is perhaps the first time one season has crammed in so many different past plot threads but it worked well, and directly addressing past sins of the family added a touch of realism.

Knight takes a lot of time examining Tommy‘s face in series four, for it’s not what Tommy says, it’s how he reacts. The deliberate choice to give Murphy – an actor at the top of his craft – little lines in the final episode served the tense, moody finale well. Series four felt big on production values too, and the stylistic choices – from dark, low-key lighting to the hallmark slow-mo walk of the Peaky clan – came thick and fast.

With more guns, bigger set pieces, and lavish costume design, the aesthetic of the show continues to be something to marvel at. Alongside the impressive visage, brooding indie rock and sultry folk from the likes of Nick Cave, Iggy Pop and Laura Marling aid the emotional narrative and support the moody tone of the series well.

As Peaky Blinders continues its fascination with Tommy Shelby OBE, series five can’t come quick enough, which teases to feature a journey across the pond to visit Mr Alphonse Capone.

Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan’s newest feature shouldn’t be called a film. It should be called an experience. Dunkirk is harrowing, heartbreaking and stunningly shot – and you won’t see a more affecting film this year (or perhaps even in the years to come).

Nolan tells the story of the World War ll Dunkirk evacuation in this, his directorial masterpiece. The director seamlessly weaves together three timelines, bringing together an ensemble cast who’s actions stir more than their words. In a genius creative decision, Nolan follows a set of characters in a week on the beach, an hour as a fighter pilot in the sky and a day on a civilian boat sent to bring home the stranded soldiers. Witnessing events from these three viewpoints allows for a layered look at the complexity of this rescue mission.

Dunkirk is fiercely told through body language, stark and stunning visuals and a pounding, relentless original score by Hans Zimmer. Nolan has united an ensemble cast that sees established talent alongside breakout stars – not one man lets this piece down.

It wouldn’t be enough to say that Dunkirk is a triumph of what cinema can achieve, and it’s unlikely it will be replicated in all of its cinematic genius anytime soon. From the intensity of fighter pilots in the sky to the heart-wrenching depiction of the deaths of young men at war, Nolan grabs his audience from the very first moment and refuses to let go. This is the re-telling of a tragic moment in history and one that is told here with aching intimacy.

Dunkirk is relentlessly paced, never allowing its viewer to take a rest from the stark reality of the situation; much like the men who were trapped there. Claustrophobic spaces are juxtaposed with expansive photography of the beach and the vast sea that separates France and Britain, and when Nolan allows you above water or into an open space you can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. The word immersive is thrown around a lot, but this piece of cinema might just be the new definition for it.

The war epic, a relatively short 106 minutes in length, is free from the bloody spectacle of most war films and features only one swear word, while dialogue itself is generally scarce – there isn’t a sentimental monologue in-sight. Director and Writer Nolan defies genre expectations and showcases the true impact of carefully crafted cinema without the use of gratuitous violence or offensive language.

Part character study, part inimitable war epic, Dunkirk has reinvented the genre thanks to the bold storytelling and auteur eye of its director. Respectful in its portrayal of the unthinkable horrors of war, it deserves to stay in the cinema way beyond its allotted time and – rather simply – should be seen by all.

Peaky Blinders: A Masterclass In TV

We all know the score. Television of the good ol’ days was known for soaps and mini series’ – and not necessarily ones that were going to change the game of the small screen (with the odd exception, of course). In the past ten years we have seen a ten-fold improvement in the quality of TV drama. From the good fellas at HBO producing cinematic series’ such as police drama True Detective, to AMC giving viewers a multi-layered exploration of an apocalyptic deep south in The Walking Dead; whatever your genre, there’s something, on some channel, to please you.

While America is way ahead with their budgets, their production values, and their star power, the UK is steadily catching up. Peaky Blinders is an exemplary case of such competition, with an ensemble to rival the best, an intricate narrative and a blistering soundtrack that creates a palpable atmosphere. BBC Two, you continue to surprise us all. As we reflect on the events of season three we are reminded of the utter strength of modern television.

With only six episodes per season, Peaky Blinders is a short series that packs a lot in. In season three we met new antagonists, said goodbye to familiar faces and welcomed new members of the family. Over just six episodes producer and writer Steven Knight creates a multi-faceted narrative that escapes genre cliches to provide audiences with substance and originality. While it isn’t always faultless, often it is close to small-screen perfection. Peaky Blinders is based on the notorious Romany gangster family of the 1920’s but Knight has attained poetic justice in his verve as a writer as he develops complex characters portrayed by a stellar ensemble cast of British actors.

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders

Cillian Murphy leads a strong cast, all of whom share an electric chemistry fueled by fiery personalities and an underlying rage. Paul Anderson is an absolute triumph in his role as Arthur, a character who audiences have seen evolve over eighteen divergent episodes. With fierce story-lines comes a need for actors who can display range and, despite their wrongdoings and bandit behaviour, we are firmly rooted with the Shelby family thanks to the complexity of the characters we have somehow come to relate too.

Beyond the obvious strength in writing we have to applaud the cinematography, costume design and stylistic direction. Season three moved with the times and with a change in year came stunning flapper girl fashion and sociopolitical themes. These were offset by a ravishing aesthetic that balanced gritty inner-city Birmingham with lavish countryside, brilliantly balancing the opulence of the life recently acquired by Thomas Shelby and co with the roots of the family; an important element to the story and one which their foes seemingly never allow them to escape.

With many scenes a violent spectacle, Peaky Blinders isn’t for everyone, but as the series progresses its exploration of feminism, masculinity, violence, family – and much more – is a fantastic case study for what can now be achieved season by season. Atmospheric and challenging, Steven Knight and BBC Two should be proud of their popular creation which has confidently taken the world by storm.

Zombie cinema; top picks

Everyone loves a flesh-eating zombie, don’t they? The gnarling sounds of their groaning. Their drunk walk. Their lack of brain cells, the list goes on and on of all the fascinating attributes the living dead host that keep zombie television, cinema and video-games a’coming. As a lover of the zombie genre (about the only partner of horror I can enjoyably watch), I have compiled a short list of the best films about, or involving these creatures that people just love to go crazy about. From Paul W.S. Anderson’s conventional take on Resident Evil to Danny Boyle’s off-the-scale originality of 28 Days Later, this is the ultimate collection of zombie cinema you just have to get your teeth stuck in to (see what I did there?).

Many believe that Romero was the first to introduce the zombie genre to us, however it was 1932 when the first glimmer of this now oh-so-popular sub-genre of cinema was first presented to audiences with Victor Halperin’s White Zombie. Having said that, zombie horror wouldn’t be anything without George A. Romero, and his first offering of zombies in the traditional sense we all now know them. Romero created the mannerisms, the sounds and the aesthetic of the contemporary zombie (they really haven’t differed in look much at all), and we, as an audience, have been spoiled for choice since the 60’s with zombie offerings.

Fun fact: Night of the Living Dead, now a classic to critics and audiences’ alike, was originally panned by viewers for being intensely violent. Romero also used the zombies as a social commentary for a 1960’s consumerist America, and this didn’t go down too well either.

Night of the Living Dead is of course a must-watch. Originally released in 1968, Romero’s fresh take on the living dead set the mark for the rest to come. Everything about the production screamed rebellion, from its filming outside of the studio system, Romero’s deliberate choice to film in black and white (despite color being available at this time), and his abundance for gross-out violence. Night of the Living Dead inspired a generation of film-makers to pick up their cameras and have a go at producing their own versions of a film that would forever be a classic amongst cinema-goers and critics. Heralded in the list of Movies that Matter, if you watch any film mentioned in this article, it should probably be this one. Dawn of the Dead came a decade later, and is the production that is most often mentioned for the formula in which it set; the locale of the mall, the importance of the survival horror element and the wonderful 70’s look and feel the film encompasses. Both helped cement Romero as the Godfather of classic zombie horror.

Staying on the same track with an adaptation, another must-see is Zak Snyder’s ironical take on Romero’s masterpiece; his 2004 Dawn of the Dead. What’s interesting about Snyder’s look at a zombie-filled America is the way he so cleverly manages to make a comment on all of the political, and societal issues he believes to be of importance in the US, in this funny, scary and intelligent horror. Immigration, race, gun-crime, consumerism and much more are all on display, and in quite a refreshing and often humorous way. For me, Michael Kelly is the shining star as C.J., a mall guard with a chip on his shoulder (he’s scared, right? But just doesn’t want to admit it). Its fun to watch characters like C.J., Kenneth (the loveable, and total hard-ass that is Ving Rhames), Ana (Sarah Polley) and Andre (Mekhi Phifer) as they get to know one another (these are people that would of been unlikely to jell before this mess); Phifer a criminal, Rhames a cop and Polley a middle-class nurse. Watching this group survive in the safe vicinity of the mall, and then fight in the horror that lay outside makes for an interesting ride, one which progresses at a swift pace with a stellar soundtrack and witty script. Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is an exemplary production of classic meets contemporary, and in the best way.

Fun fact: Although he wasn’t expecting it, Romero was pleasantly surprised with Snyder’s take on the directors classic, and really rather enjoyed it. Kudos Zak.

cillian murphy as jim in 28 days later

cillian murphy as jim in 28 days later

A change in direction was needed in the zombie film realm, with too much of the same old hat, and not nearly hardly enough production values to make it worth your while. Danny Boyle was at hand in late 2002 to bring us that change, in the form of a  dilapidated London, full of enraged humans (important to note) who are out for blood, and destruction. 28 Days Later is the film at hand, a film that challenges the genre in a way no zombie film had before and a film that focuses on character development and human relationships, not just the grotesque nature of the violence this genre has become so known for. Cillian Murphy is at the center of this unique pick as Jim, a bicycle courier who wakes up from a coma to discover what first seems a deserted London. As night falls the truth becomes apparently, and unnervingly clear; there is no desertion, just blood-thirsty ‘rage’ victims. Murphy shines as a terrified man still hopeful that the world can be salvaged, its this hope that gives the film its realism, who would want to believe this could be it? No one, and Jim is 28 Days Later‘s everyman, struggling to come to terms with the devastation that took place whilst he was asleep. With support from Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston and Naomie Harris and a fascinating aesthetic used to distinguish Britain as an unrecognizable landscape, Boyle gives us an outstanding zombie film which refuses to follow the formulaic rules of its predecessors. Brilliantly British, and startlingly real. Oh, and if John Murphy’s ‘In the House, in a Heartbeat‘ doesn’t give you chills, nothing will.

Fun fact: To capture famous London landmarks in a state of desertion Boyle closed sections of road off for minutes at a time in the early hours of the morning as to not cause disruption, using a DV camera to create the stark effect he wanted.

the cast of zombieland

the cast of zombieland

Now for something a little more upbeat, and just damn fun; Zombieland. This is a film that everyone can enjoy because of its laugh-out-loud humor and its ability to not take itself seriously, Zombieland is a zombie movie that appeals to the masses (even my mum likes it, and she hates violence and horror films, must be good right?). Comedy and the living dead wouldn’t be something that sounds like it would go together, and before Zombieland Shaun of the Dead was the go-to film for most who wanted a bit of both. However, Ruben Fleischer, the films director, made sure that this became a piece of zombie cinema no-one could resist seeing, or loving. Set after the zombies have already taken over, Zombieland follows Columbus (the fantastically awkward Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (acting legend Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) as they find their feet in an over-run America. Its hard for a zombie film to stand out as something completely original, but with the help of the cast, Fleischer manages it. What makes it so enjoyable? Scenes of the protagonists tearing up deserted stores just for fun, playing Monopoly in Bill Murray’s house, the finale at California’s Pacific Playland and of course the zombie kill of the week are just some examples of what makes this film so special.

Fun fact: After Bill Murray was finally picked for the films famous cameo actors such as Dwayne Johnson, Joe Pesci and Kevin Bacon were all considered. Wouldn’t of been the same without a bit of Ghostbusters though.

When first reading you may of thought to yourself, “What, Resident Evil?!”, but yes, you read it correctly! Although to many Anderson’s first attempt at giving us a filmic version of one of the most beloved video games of all time is just a lump of generic cheese, to me its an important zombie film that should most definitely be seen. The reason its so important, is the idea that it seems to cherish the zombie film. How, you may ask? Anderson stays true to the conventions of the genre the whole way; the zombies slowly walk, but are still a threat, they can only be killed by damaging the brain, the characters are quintessential zombie film stereotypes (SWAT agents, police, sexy-bad-ass protagonists) and its easy, simple watching. Its uncomplicated, and that’s okay. The original game is something I remember watching my brothers play when I was young, and something that when i got a little older (with the release of the film) wished I could watch, because it has that classic title. While Milla Jovovich may not be the most talented actress, she certainly puts her all into playing Alice, and while the film may not be a work of art, its still a thrill-ride. So, while Resident Evil might not of been on your list of zombie films to watch, it should be, because its unashamed to be what it is: a staple example of what this genre was originally and should still be about – the living dead getting their ass kicked by gun-wielding people.

Fun fact: The zombie dogs were covered in prosthetic makeup and fake blood, which they apparently found so tasty that they continuously licked it off. Diva dogs, ey?

I would love to hear what you would class as the most important, and enjoyable zombie films so please feel free to drop a comment!