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.

The Walking Dead; Slabtown review

This weeks episode of The Walking Dead saw a change in setting, and an introduction for a new set of characters (not forgetting that Beth is now back in the fold). This is an interesting change-up for the series, and holds some important questions for fans of this consistently enthralling show. Beth has so far been a character who is yet to have her moment in the spotlight, her most interesting juncture so far is her burgeoning relationship with Daryl, something that became one of the most intriguing elements of the second half of season four. If we cast our minds back to season two, we can remember the way Beth once was, and how far her character has come – not only has she hardened but become much more likeable, and someone who everyone is rooting for. Emily Kinney brings a naivety and youthful realism to Beth, which is refreshing in a show which often focuses on a bunch of hard-asses (maybe it’s because I envision myself in her shoes, and that’s a powerful tool to use with those watching).

emily kinney as beth in the walking dead

emily kinney as beth in the walking dead

Slabtown, this weeks offering, welcomes back season ones setting of Atlanta, the built-up city now left to rot, is over-grown, grey and desolate – and looks just how a post-apocalyptic piece of entertainment should. The locale of the hospital is a well-judged juxtaposition, in the sense that the vicinity looks normal, and the characters are walking around in scrubs and police uniform (new personalities such as Dawn believe they are trying to re-build the broken world they  have found themselves in), but the people wearing these are miles away from law-abiding or innocent. Violence against humans is heavily featured in Slabtown and despite being a now running theme, still holds shocks (WD is wonderful for its ability to never feel repetitive). While Rick and the crew are certainly missed in episodes they don’t feature, the arrival of a new group of survivors is enough to keep us on our toes, and eager for the time the two may come to a head.

The final scenes lent to some of the most tense, and nail-biting moments we’ve seen so far in season five, and comfortably placed Beth in the hearts of those watching. The arrival of Carol at the hospital was enough to keep us wishing episode five would come sooner, and enough to have our brains a whirl at whats in store for all involved. Full of enigma, and always surprisingly real, mine, and I’m sure your, allegiance to The Walking Dead never wains. Consistently riveting, and genuinely one of the best television dramas to come out of recent years, nothing but praise can be written for this wonderfully original show.

The Walking Dead season 5 – No Sanctuary

Season five of The Walking Dead is back, and with a bang. The death toll was high, there were walkers-a-plenty and the group were reunited (yay, at last!). No Sanctuary, the on point name of this weeks pilot episode was all about humanity, or more accurately, lack of.  Rick and the gang were pitted against the monstrous leaders of Terminus, the destination the group were headed in season four. All became clear pretty imminently that were was no sanctuary in this once train terminal, and that the group needed to get their thinking caps on quickly to escape the hell on earth they had arrived to. Que Rick and Darryl being as bad-ass as ever, Carol working her way back into the hearts of the audience and of course, as always in the best of The Walking Dead, a few tears.

The Terminus situation was quickly, and violently wrapped up making way for what looks to be an on-the-road story. The strength of WD lies with the characters, and the cast who play them. Rick, Darryl, Michonne, Maggie, Glenn, Carl..the list goes on, and five seasons in they are as perfect as they’ve always been. As mentioned, this episode was all about the humanity, and loss of humanity that the survivors of this apocalypse are coping with. You’ve got the group at Terminus; so wounded by their past experiences that they are even worse then the Walkers, killing the living to survive. Interestingly, this episode saw Carol regain some of her inner strength and soul, a poignant moment between her and Rick where she thanks him was enough to make you swiftly forgive her bad choices and welcome her back. Tears were shed in the final moments, when Rick and Carl discover Judith has been being looked after by Tyreese, and at that moment a glimmer of hop

the gang return for season five of the walking dead

the gang return for season five of the walking dead

e for the group was had. Oh, and the return of a character no one could forget puts this episode up there as the best pilot the show has had yet.

Stylish as ever, and pretty damn realistic considering the subject matter, No Sanctuary brought The Walking Dead back, and on staggeringly impressive form. A week feels way too long to wait for the next installment, but for now guesses can be made at whats in store over the next few episodes. The poster for this weeks episode read “Hunt or be hunted”; season five looks to be the grittiest yet. Welcome back.

Game of Thrones: Watchers on the Wall

Four seasons in and HBO’s (the kings of cinematic television) Game of Thrones is as good, if not better, then it was in the first. Blood, guts, humor and compassion were all on display in this weeks haunting episode which explored just how dark the inhabitants are north of the wall. Kit Harington was on top form as always as the loveable Jon Snow; fighting hard (literally) to defend Castle Black. But this week I found a new, perhaps respect, for a character I’ve never had time for. Said character is Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale), who before Sundays episode has only come across as a self-righteous know- it-all. In this weeks episode he showed his loyalty to the wall, and his obvious admiration for the men he leads and serves with. His pre-battle speech was short but very poignant, and is some of the best dialogue of the season. Teale gave Thorne a superb send off, and he certainly wont be forgotten (that is if Thorne passed on, this was left open for anyone’s guess!), it is moments like this, with characters that don’t necessarily register up until that brutal moment that exemplifies just how good Game of Thrones is.

This was a strong episode, considering it only focused on the Nights Watch, whose story lines can often tread the line of dull. The CGI was pretty awe-inspiring, as always, and the arrival of Mammoths and Giants was a great visual element to a show which is never short on shocks. The battle between the ‘free’ Wildlings and the men of the Watch has been a long time coming, and one of the biggest build-ups of this season. ‘Watchers on the wall’ serves spectacularly well as a penultimate episode (the second to last episodes have become notoriously known as the ones that hold shocks for those watching). The endearing Sam Tarly (John Bradley) provides light humor, which in an episode focused entirely on a bloody battle is certainly welcomed (but in moderation, something that the makers of Game of Thrones have perfectly on point).

I don’t wish to spoil the episode entirely for those who are yet to watch, so some things ill leave unsaid. What I will say is that season four, episode nine: ‘Watchers on the Wall’ stands out as a phenomenal episode in a series of epic proportions. Game of Thrones perfectly balances character development with war and relationships, and certainly ranks high among some of the best television ever created. Only one more episode left, and I’m already waiting for season five.