Everybody knows someone with an undying love for Peaky Blinders. Since its debut in 2013, the 1920s-set period drama, which follows the Birmingham-based Shelby family and their ever-expanding criminal (and occasional legitimate) business dealings, has gained a steady cult following. In five seasons, the series has seen the Shelby family rise from a petty street gang to Birmingham’s premier criminal organization—with branches in London and the U.S.
Having just concluded its run on BBC One, season five of Peaky Blinders is set to arrive in the U.S. via Netflix on October 4. With complex stories, a stacked cast, and perhaps the most fashionable characters on television, here’s why—by order of the Peaky Blinders—you need to check it out.
It has a complex central figure
Thomas Shelby OBE DCM MM MP is one of the most alluring characters on television. And not just because Cillian Murphy, who plays the leader of the titular gang, has the most piercing eyes to ever grace a screen. The second oldest of the five Shelby siblings, Tommy is immediately established as an intimidating force to be reckoned with, as he enacts a grisly plan to expand the Peaky Blinders’ presence by overthrowing a more powerful gang’s bookmaking and horse racing enterprise.
However, the series makes no mistake about the fact that Tommy Shelby is not a good person. He’s ruthless, violent, and ambitious, making his power moves on behalf of (and sometimes in spite of) his family so compelling to watch. Operating as if with a death wish—scheming, manipulating, and betraying allies and enemies alike—his ambition is not without consequence, and at times, threatens the lives and livelihood of the Shelby family. Watching Tommy somehow scrape by (mostly) unscathed—scheming his way to an OBE and a seat in parliament—has become so entrancing to watch, you can’t help but wonder when, or how, his empire is going to come crashing down around him.
Its post-war setting provides depth
Season one opens in 1919, just months after the end of World War I, which many of the main characters served in as sappers, tunneling under enemy lines and setting off explosives. Set in the era of the real Peaky Blinders, the post-war period setting doesn’t just provide opportunity for stunning costumes—I’ll get to that in a minute—it also provides an important contextual foundation for the Shelby brothers, their gang, and their growing business ventures.
The brutality of war and the lingering trauma the Shelby brothers and their comrades grapple with looms large over the first season but never truly disappears. In fact, eldest brother Arthur’s (Paul Anderson) continued struggles with PTSD remains a theme throughout the series—years after his return from France.
As their Aunt Polly laments in season one, all the boys returned from war changed: for Tommy, it awakened the fearlessness (and violent ruthlessness) that steers his dangerous ambitions, with his war commendations serving as leverage; for Arthur, it’s violent outbursts and depression; associate Danny “Whizz-Bang” suffers from instances when he believes himself to still be in France, to dangerous effect; and younger brother John (Joe Cole), who, like Tommy, uses opium to suppress the nightmares. It’s in their common struggle that the Shelby brothers display a rare compassionate side, as they—often imperfectly—remind one another that the war is over and attempt to move on.
The Shelby family is lovingly chaotic
Going into business with family is tough, but when your business often relies on dubious schemes and occasional outright gang warfare, things can quickly get complicated. Television is littered with complex families whose business and personal relationships are tightly woven, but few are as quick to issue violent insults at one another as the Shelbys. If Murphy’s Tommy Shelby is the head of the family, Helen McCrory’s Aunt Polly is the heart. Treasurer of the family’s bookmaking business—taking charge while the older boys were fighting in the war—Polly is also the maternal constant in their lives, raising youngest brother Finn (who is ten during season one) alongside his elder siblings.
Alongside Tom, Polly is largely the brains of the business operation—acting as his true second-in-command—despite Arthur and John’s technical status as equal partners. (On the Peaky Blinders side of the business, Arthur serves as Tommy’s right-hand man, while John regrettably sits at number three.) Even Ada (Sophie Rundle), the lone Shelby sister whose adversarial relationship with her brothers—especially Tommy—looms throughout the series, can never stray too far from the family and their many shenanigans.
But while Peaky Blinders is full of the Shelbys pulling fast ones on each other and making side deals that threaten family stability, the series is often anchored by the characters acting in what they feel is the best interest of the family and that is—at this juncture—more than can be said for Logan Roy.
They’ve got style
There’s no mistaking it that the Peaky Blinders have got style. Whether preparing for battle or a night at The Garrison pub, the Peaky Blinders are always dressed for success. Three-piece tweed suits and flat caps favored by the Peaky Blinders—inspired by the well-dressed nature of the real-world gang—don’t just look good. They’re also incredibly functional in the case of a sudden attack, thanks to the razor blade hidden in the brim of the cap.
David Beckham is such a fan of the series and its clothing, he launched a Peaky Blinders-inspired clothing collection earlier this year, featuring three-piece suits, flat caps—sans razor, of course. While the men are largely kept in their tweed uniforms, the women’s clothing has a lot of range—from Aunt Polly’s iconic suits to the era’s iconic flapper looks—especially as the Shelbys move up the ladder from working class to new money.
Of course, we can’t talk Peaky Blinders without mention those haircuts. The Peaky Blinders uniform isn’t complete without the aggressive undercut, of which, all the Blinders take a slightly different approach—to wildly differing degrees of success.
A slew of memorable frenemies
While Peaky Blinders‘ main cast is nothing short of spectacular, the series has featured some truly prolific friends—well, frenemies—and foes. As Tommy seeks to build his empire, Sam Neill’s Major Campbell, an Irish policeman, is determined to destroy it—to the point of obsession. Meanwhile, Tom Hardy plays one of the most bonkers characters on the planet… and he plays Venom. As Alfie Solomons, a Camden Town-based leader of a Jewish gang, Hardy is menacing and hilarious—a baffling combo. He may be the most memorable of the big names making their way to Small Heath, but he’s not alone. Aidan Gillen and Adrien Brody pop up in later seasons—the former, a business interest to Tommy and love interest to Polly, while the latter is New York mobster seeking revenge on the Shelby family.
Iconic broody music
With its smoggy, industrial Birmingham setting, unpredictable characters, and very specific style, Peaky Blinders is nothing short of a mood. It only makes sense that the series is backed by an equally moody soundtrack—and boy does it deliver. While period-specific music does feature from time to time, the series never feels compelled to stick to its era—without going full Baz Luhrmann.
The broody musical mood is established right off the bat, courtesy of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ gritty “Red Right Hand,” which serves as the Peaky Blinders title track. In addition to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, who feature heavily throughout the series, Peaky Blinders uses a slew of regulars to provide the series’ musical mood, including Arctic Monkeys, PJ Harvey, The White Stripes, Laura Marling, and Tom Waits. Additionally, the late David Bowie, a massive fan of the series, reportedly requested his music be featured. And, of course, I’d be remiss to not highlight the truly inspired use of Johnny Cash’s cover of an iconic Irish ballad.
Season five of Peaky Blinders begins streaming on Netflix on October 4.
Feature Image: BBC