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Peaky Blinders Series 5: Episode 1 & 2 - Double Review

Peaky Blinders 5.01 "Black Tuesday" - Review:

Two years on from the ending of Peaky Blinders’ fourth season that resulted in the death of Tom Hardy’s Alfie Solomons and the election to office for Tommy Shelby as Birmingham MP, the series is approaching its climax. We’ve long been told by creator Steven Knight that he wants to tell the story of the characters, one family, between the space of two World Wars, and one of the main themes of this first episode – as it is always in Peaky Blinders, is the status of military and the reputation that it comes with it particularly in regards to the roles that characters who have fought in France played. Tommy offers a bonus drink to those who went to war when he marches into the regular watering hole known as The Garrison Tavern, and he also lauds his commitment to being a soldier on the frontlines to a Cavalry Officer when he commands a fundraiser, suggesting that he shot one for arriving late to help his men on the battlefield and framed him for cowardice. Whether it’s true or not we don’t know, as nearly everything that we’ve learnt about the Peaky Blinders’ wartime adventures has been told and not shown, but there’s enough passion in Cillian Murphy’s voice that we believe it as much as his latest victim of blackmail.

The personal life for Tommy is right back where things were at the beginning of season four, he may be married to Lizzie with his son Charlie in tow, but Charlie is growing older and starting to see through his comments. At the end of the episode, he tells Tommy that he’s not god. Tommy replies to himself more than anyone, not yet. Which begs the question – do his ambitions stop at just being an MP? From the start of the episode we’re shown how much Tommy has got things under control in his political and working life, blackmailing journalists and eventually having them killed when they come forth with troublesome material and interacting warmly with every man in The Garrison who all come to him with good news regardless of whether he knows it or not. In Birmingham South, the Peaky Blinders are king, but for how long? Tommy’s passionate speech is catching the interest of neighbouring politician and British fascist Oswald Mosely (Sam Claflin), who played a prominent role as leader of the British Union of Fascists in the years leading up to World War Two. Revolution is in the air once again – it’s just a question of who will be leading it. And Mosely wants a man like Tommy on his side. It’s not the first time we’ve had historical characters come into play in the series before, perhaps most notably Winston Churchill himself showed up in Season 1 and as things draw closer to World War Two, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return at some point in the future.

Arthur is in charge of Shelby Company Limited running t against the wishes of Linda whilst Michael oversees the American counterpart following their expansion overseas, with the Shelbys keeping things in house. Whilst Tommy can see the Wall Street Crash happening, Michael isn’t as smart as he is – and is unable to sell the shares in advance spending his days stateside baked in excess debauchery. Consequences this means, must be dished out his way – and it’s time for Michael to return to Small Heath. The series’ trademark slow-mo walks are always a delight and seeing the gang walk to the Garrison never gets old. But the slow-mo walks don't mask the characters and their troubles – Finn is trying too hard to be a Peaky Blinder and ends up getting shot in the arm as a result of his over-commitment, and Ada is pregnant with an army colonel from last season unknowingly being the father.

One of the most anticipated additions to the cast this season was the incredibly talented Anya Taylor-Joy who put in a brilliant performance in David Eggers’ 2015 horror movie The Witch and then again in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and although she plays a minor role here in this first episode, there’s plenty of potential for her character as the series progresses, because Black Tuesday, to nobody’s surprise, felt very much like a stage setting episode reminding us – like so many series premieres tend to do, where the characters are and after a long break between seasons that is a welcome refresher. We know what all the characters arc’s are going to be from the start of the season and we know what their stakes are. There isn’t much at this point to convince us that the series is moving away from its largely formulaic structure of seeing the Peaky Blinders pushed to their limit and Tommy pulling a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute to save the day – but with the sense of a ticking clock we could have heightened agency as although this series has been renewed for a season six, I wouldn’t be surprised if season five were to have a major defining moment, because how do you top the death of killing off a character played by an actor as good as Tom Hardy? Alfie Solomons was easily one of the strongest characters in the supporting cast and whether Aberama Gold is capable of matching that brilliance of Alfie even if he is certainly capable of doing so should the script allow, and there are certainly signs of that happening in the next episode. But at least, as requested, Cyril the dog has a new home (Cyril lives!), and Polly is given plenty of drama material to do this episode, getting to spend time in Monte Carlo with a fling.

The score as ever is brilliant and if anything, the music is more subdued this season, less Nick Cave and Arctic Monkeys and more Anna Calvi, who steps into provide the soundtrack that’s as anachronistic but utterly compelling and as appropriate as ever. The cliffhanger hints that there’s potentially more to a hit job on journalist Michael Levitt than first appeared – speaking of options for returning characters, Levitt himself also encountered Tommy in season one, but is Tommy really behind Levitt’s death? Like with his comment to the ex-Cavalry officer, there’s a lot of ambiguity surrounding him. It could after all, be the Angels of Retribution gang that’s been stirring up trouble and potentially trying to frame the Peaky Blinders for killing a journalist. And on top of this, regardless of what happens on that front, Tommy would not win a snap election in his own household, with Shelby family opinion very much still against him. But not much has changed on that front. He’s facing his own personal demons too, and seeing visions of Grace around the fire in the woods is never a good sign.

Peaky Blinders 5.02 “Black Cats

The second episode wasted no time in upping the ante from the first in true Steven Knight fashion, aided from some stellar direction by the brilliant Anthony Byrne, who really brought his A-Game to the table in a chilling opening scene that properly introduced us to the latest threat to Thomas Shelby, OBE this season, in the form of the Billy Boys. The Billy Boys are out for blood and believe that Tommy has overstretched himself and is shooting above his weight in Parliament. They’re not afraid to plant land mines in the muddy fields near his house in a shot that looked straight out of a wartorn battlefield and they knew enough information to work out the identity of Aberama Gold’s gypsy hideout, bringing a cross to not only cancel out any curses but also crucify and kill his son, Bonnie Gold, who was an important part of last season as a boxer. The chilling arrival of the Glasgow Protestant Razor Gang was heralded by the chant in the forest “Hello, hello / We Are the Billy Boys / We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood / Surrender or you’ll die.”

Aberama is left devastating and broken, and in a brilliant display of acting from the talented Aidan Gillen, goes out to the first person who he believes responsible in Johnny Dogs, who is clearly no traitor and Aberama should have known better. Johnny Dogs is a good Peaky Blinder, and he has been since day one. What’s most interesting is that everyone wants a piece of Tommy’s crown and not just the sole Black Cat, who is the apparent rat in the organisation. Lizzie is unlikely at this point, she knows that Tommy is going to fall she just doesn’t want him to bring down the entire business with him. We at least know what her game is, which is why the traitor is going to be someone whose business is unknown.

It could be Michael but like with Adrian Dunbar’s Ted Hastings in Line of Duty, setting up the prime suspect early on means that it’s too early in the series to reveal to the audience the identity of the Black Cat so this is like going to be nothing more than a false alarm at this point. Michael’s passionate defence of his innocence convinced Polly who convinced Tommy in turn with Michael’s help, and although he was tempted by the lure of Hollywood (who isn’t), he seems apparently loyal to team Peaky Blinders. It’s interesting that the IRA are trying to leverage Tommy to their side this season and potentially setting him up to take the fall, as behind the scenes, everyone wants a piece of him and his power. And it’s left him feeling like a more broken man than ever, avoiding sleep due to Shakespearean dreams of vengeance. After all, a Black Cat dream is never wrong, despite Polly’s reminder that it could come from another source and does not mean that it’ll be a traitor.

Michael does have an air of ambition around him and wants to rise up the ranks and the loss of pride that comes with losing the Shelby money won’t help matters much. Someone to be more wary of is Gina Gray, who arrives in Birmingham with Michael to answer a frosty meeting between Polly and Arthur who are at her new husband’s necks. Gina wedded Michael on the boat due to her becoming pregnant (meaning Polly is to have a granddaughter), but Anya Taylor-Joy is bound to have more do to than just be a supporting character and her scenes with Finn Cole – who was stellar this episode - gave a sense that her character is more aware than she’s letting on. Could Gina even be faking her pregnancy? Could she have been responsible for distracting Michael long enough so that the Peaky Blinders would lose their money? It’s an early shout, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case. Polly may trust Michael’s innocence, but Gina is another matter entirely. It’s interesting to note that Gina was absent during the IRA encounter too, and has been keen to meet Michael’s extended and more famous family, but maybe - like Michael, her involvement at this point could be again, too obvious. She could have her own schemes though - even if she's not the mole.

Threats are coming at Tommy from all sides. The police are getting closer between the link between Tommy and the journalist, and it could be a mistake that leads to his undoing – with it being apparent now, after watching the second episode after finishing my review of the first one, that Tommy really did have the journalist killed. There’s links to the past that could come back to haunt Tommy too, in more ways than one. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an Al Capone-type situation that got him in the end rather than his foes, and the law ended up bringing him down. But it’s important not to underestimate the threat of Jimmy McCavern – played brilliantly by Brian Gleeson, who has come for the Peaky Blinders’ racetrack business just as they set their sight on bigger things, fixing football matches, the sport of the working class, which Tommy has his eye on in office. Fixing football matches is an entirely different ballgame to horse racing (pun not intended), and with that comes higher stakes and more attention. They turn to an ex-footballer and ex manager playing in the Garrison, and is recruited by Finn, who is looking for some trouble that Arthur can control. Arthur tells Finn that because he’s a Peaky Blinder he’s a General, and Generals don’t fight on the front lines. But he still must take orders, as there's an inner circle within an inner circle.

And in the background too is Mosley, more enigmatic and working as the Riddler to McCavern’s Joker. He notices Tommy’s comments on the people having enough of the situation in Parliament and is unimpressed by Ada acting as his financial advisor. Mosley also has links to the UVF as well and the attack could come from both fronts united against Tommy. And what's more is that Tommy's son is no longer innocent, having been exposed to the carnage outside his front door which resulted in the three men - Aberama Gold, Johnny Dogs and Tommy himself, being booted out of the house by Lizzie Stark, no matter how temporarily as Gold is badly wounded. To cap things all off, the show once again pulled off a stunning usage of cinematography to depict two scenarios - one where Tommy was in the distance, there but not really there, watching his kid celebrate his birthday, and another - the scenario that felt more real - where he decided to remain for work.

The music for both episodes it's worth pointing out is on form as ever. The Dart's Love U 2 Death, Black Strobe's I'm A Man and Black Sabbath's The Wizard are among the highlights with the anachronistic tunes taking a new direction this season. One of the draws of the show is its soundtrack and I can't wait to see what the team, especially Anna Calvi, come up with for episode three.

Who do you think is the Black Cat? Or the Black Cats? Peaky Blinders has set Tommy up to take the fall once again in a Richard II type way, with clear influences of this Shakespearean drama on the series, and it will be a true test of his character to the end of the series. In a couple of episodes that were filled with plenty of drama right until the last, the series reminded us instantly why it's television at the top of its game. Welcome back, Peaky Blinders. It's good to have you with us.


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