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Peaky Blinders - Sapphire - Review

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Peaky Blinders, whisper it carefully, may have peaked. The sixth series – after a series of promising starts, is now starting to fall victim to the nagging sense of doubt – of chaoticness. When Steven Knight said that the plan was to end the show from the start at the beginning of World War One; he’s now gone back on that plan, launching a movie. It’s almost led to the feeling that this series is a bit of a waste of space – for want of a better term, the conflict with Michael seemingly put on hold in favour of nothing that we haven’t seen before, most of the Mosely stuff in particular has been done better in the fifth season when it felt like there was more agency and stakes, yet robbed of that we’re almost left with an epilogue to that season, a cool-down, an experimental slow burn that may be saving the best stuff for the movie - holding back so we have a reason to go and see it.

Maybe I’d feel differently if I cared about Ruby or got to know her as a character but although her death was deeply tragic for the characters, we don’t really feel it. It’s hard to care for a character who’s barely been on screen. I think that also feels victim to the fact that the series has become all the more Tommy-centric now; beyond anything else – he’s in practically every frame. Ada and Arthur now feel like guest stars rather than primary characters – the power balance of the Shelby clan has been shattered by keeping them apart. We’ve spent more time with Esme than we have with Arthur, which – as great as a character as Esme is – doesn’t really feel like a good call. Arthur’s chaotic factor was always something that he was going to grow beyond or fall victim to and he’s trying to do better – but the show isn’t granting him enough screentime to do so. The Hayden Stagg moment last episode finally signalled the grand entrance for Stephen Graham – but hasn’t really done anything with either character since. Spending the three episodes of the final season revolving around a character that we barely know feels like a choice – and not a good one.

Furthermore, the introduction of Duke late in the game presents another problem. Oh, we’re supposed to buy that Tommy had a son already when he was in France yet was kept secret from him all these years? Without even a mention of what came before? It just feels hackneyed, out of the blue – like they’re setting up a place for a Peaky Blinders without Tommy Shelby but none of the characters are compelling enough or as good as an actor as Cillian Murphy to carry the series without him – I could easily see the spotlight shining on Duke for example – but then; we get a potential Vikings problem. When you have a lead as powerfully written, well-rounded and is such a heart of the show – take him away, and what happens? (That said, Conrad Khan is excellent in County Lines and could pull such a daunting task off). We’ve already given Tommy an Arthur Morgan-style exit route. His days all but feel numbered – and he won’t live to see out World War II if Dr. Holford is right, given an 18 months clock. I do find it interesting that they made the bold choice to remind us all that Tommy is as despicable as some of the villains he’s faced in the past, a cold-blooded slaughter of the Barwell camp earned a justifiable backlash from Lizzie – Tommy has, as ever – his answer to everything here.

I get that Peaky Blinders is going the full Sopranos final season with this one – a slower, deconstructive look at the characters coming to terms with the consequences of their glory days. But in doing so, it’s almost lost a bit of the heart that made Peaky so special – maybe I’d care more if it didn’t feel so empty, so cold and distant. The new characters brought into fill the void aren’t as compelling as I’d hoped, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Gina is quickly tiresome, and Uncle Jack lacks the spark that previous villains have had. We’ve had an appearance of Alfie Solomons previously – but even he feels like a box-tick of Peaky greatest hits every time he shows up – no longer as fresh as he once was.

Peaky nails the more emotional moments. Ruby’s funeral, the second one this season, was beautifully shot – as was Tommy’s revenge-fuelled act against the gypsies. A tread into the rural forests of England is cold, cruel and bleak – it almost feels like a different show compared to the days it spent holed up in Birmingham. The need to be different is admirable – but in doing so, has Peaky almost become too different? A sorrowful, downbeat episode saw Tommy strike up conversation with Mosley and Mitford whilst secretly plotting to undermine their plan – the dinner table allowed for some talking-head style cinematography that showcased the true villains of the series – listening to Mitford tell her story of the Jews being forced to eat grass in her presence was horrific – they’re sparing no expense in making Mosely and Mitford as despicable as possible, and seeing Tommy spend more time in their presence is chilling even when we know he's working undercover for Churchill.

Peaky wrestles head on with the ugly side of history and it does so in a rich and compelling way. Whilst this season as a collective whole may be the weakest yet – at least in my book – it may pull everything out of the hat in the last two episodes. It’s doing a great job at putting Tommy through absolute hell on Earth – whatever Cillian Murphy does next will be lighter unless he joins The Last of Us. Even Bond will feel like an average episode of Ted Lasso. The dread, despair – punctuated by Sinead O’Connor, is ever present – and Murphy is at the centre of it all, justifying the need for Tommy to be the primary focus – justifying the need for an almost expanded, experimental character study, which leaves us once again, back where we were at the end of the previous week.

Peaky Blinders is treading a fine line. If it pulls off everything superbly in its last two episodes then time will be kinder to Series 6. Yet if the last two episodes underwhelm, then it will just end up feeling like a wasted time. These complex morality power plays are intriguing and I like that the show isn’t afraid of evolving, but in doing so – it feels a little too experimental and has rendered the show a tad cold and distant. It was appreciative to hear The Black Velvet Band again; a song that Grace has sung before – and everything has come, once again, full circle. And on top of that -

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