Peaky Blinders: a return to its roaring, raging best

Series five, episode five recap: a perfect, pulsating watch, just when it seemed all was looking listless

Violence, more violence . . . Paul Anderson as Arthur Shelby. Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions

Violence, more violence . . . Paul Anderson as Arthur Shelby. Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions

 

Oh Peaky Blinders, just when I think I might be out you pull me back in. This was a perfectly paced, pulsating episode, not only one of my favourites from this series but one of my favourite hours of the show overall.

That’s not to say there weren’t issues – which we will come to – but this was Peaky Blinders at its roaring, raging best with enemies closing in, plot strands multiplying, violence growing and, standing still in the eye of the hurricane, the singular, scheming Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) still confident he can somehow ride spotless through the coming storm.

Or can he? One of the main themes of this series has been the toll the continued violence takes on the family, and both Tommy and Arthur articulated a clear death wish here.

Of the two I would take Tommy more seriously. Arthur might be the company’s mad dog (and Paul Anderson does a fine job of capturing his deranged intensity) but it’s hard to escape the feeling that his ‘I would take a bullet for you’ is all bluster.

By contrast, Tommy’s continued conversations with the winsome shade of his dead wife – “Push the button, unlock the door, come home to me” – have the deadening ring of a man who no longer cares whether he lives or dies.

Yes, Ada is right to call him out on it and to suggest that he seeks death as a form of unearned absolution. But I am genuinely unsure if he intends to survive the coming conflagration with Mosley, or if we are instead watching the tying up of loose ends and the preparing of a sacrifice for the greater good.

His choice of former soldier Barney to be either an assassin or the human version of Three Card Monte (not for nothing is Tommy a master of sleight of hand) was also an intriguing one.

He clearly feels he is freeing Barney, one of the last surviving members of those lost, beleaguered companions from the first world war, from a personal hell. Yet he is also leading him to certain death (surely not even Tommy could save a half-crazed would-be assassin trying to shoot a member of Parliament at a rally, although I’ve been wrong about so much this season that maybe he will).

The argument is clearly that that death will be a welcome one – but it seemed obvious Barney didn’t think that. And anyway, who made Tommy Shelby god with the power to choose whether a man lives or dies?

The bad guys

Malevolence behind the mask . . . Sam Claflin as Oswald Mosley. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions
Malevolence behind the mask . . . Sam Claflin as Oswald Mosley. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions

And so it came to pass that Sir Oswald Mosley did attend an “evening with a bunch of f**king gypsies”. While there, he took the opportunity to explain his deepest, darkest philosophy in the most terrifying of terms.

For weeks now, Sam Claflin’s tightly wound performance has been hinting at the malevolence behind the mask. Tonight’s speech finally saw that mask slip in a bravura piece of writing that captured the way Mosley thought in the 1920s while sounding a resonant warning about certain feelings today.

In particular, the lines about the nature of Englishness, rapacious foreigners, the closing of factories and that disgusting old canard of international Jewish financial conspiracies recalled the worst spivs and frauds on both the right and left today.

It was a timely reminder of how easy it is for a plausible voice to spout vile words – but it also showed that, for all his love of style and flash, Steven Knight is always keen for his audience to think about what lurks behind those sharp suits and savage smiles.

Which brings us to the episode’s only true misstep: Arthur’s rampage against the Titanic gang in Poplar. While the intention may have been to show that with Linda gone the untrammelled violent id is back in charge, it played out too much like an overtly stylised paean to mayhem. The sort of thing that has them yelling ‘Yeah Arthur, kill them all mate’ in the kind of Peaky Blinders theme bars where a lot of utter rubbish is talked about “nagging” female characters somehow doing ‘the lads wrong’.

It also felt far more Guy Ritchie than peak Peaky – and no matter how tempting, we all know you should never go the whole Guy.

Quote of the week

I had more complicated strategies in mind for Mr Mosley but then he spoke badly to my wife ...”
Further proof that the relationship between Tommy and Lizzy is increasingly important.

Notes from the boardroom

  • Farewell then Ben Younger, upright officer and gentleman and close friend to Ada Shelby. Whatever she said, you were good husband material and I for one am sorry to see you meet your end at the nefarious hands of Special Branch, Section D, the British Intelligence or some combination thereof.
  • That said, I liked Ada’s practical response. She is my favourite Shelby and I wish her the world – or at least a continued and prosperous existence in the most beautifully decorated house in London.
  • Looking good . . . Aidan Gillen as Aberama Gold. Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions
    Chivalrous . . . Aidan Gillen as Aberama Gold. Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions
    Also growing on me, the chivalrous Aberama Gold. I liked his subtle spit at Mosley. I like the fact he and Polly clearly had great sex. I like his refusal to sully his airspace with Jimmy McCavern until his day of reckoning comes.
  • Well done to everyone who suggested Linda might not be dead. When will I learn not to jump the gun on this show? I was initially in two minds about her survival: was it a little pat that Polly shot to wound not to kill? In the end, though, I think it made sense – plus I’ll forgive a lot for her dismissal of Arthur and the lovely scene in which she left Tommy’s house clear-eyed in the early morning chill.
  • That scene was just one reason why I’ve so enjoyed Anthony Byrne’s direction this series. He does the big moments brilliantly, but it’s those small moments that send shivers up my spine, creating a season that feels both epic and intimate.
  • Finally, I doubt Alfie Solomons is anything but dead but if anyone could get into the popular resurrection business, he is very much that man …

Anachronistic yet strangely right song of the week

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever we have a tie. After hours of internal debate, I was unable to choose between one of my all-time favourite songs, Joy Division’s Atmosphere, a snippet of which played during poor Peter’s funeral, and the mighty War Pigs by Black Sabbath, which closed out the final moments. – Guardian

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