Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Binge Club: Peaky Blinders

Our weekly series looking at the good, the bad and the obscure of on-demand viewing. Each week, we'll choose a series from various New Zealand streaming sites and determine whether it's worth watching.
Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill star in the UKTV series Peaky Blinders.
Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill star in the UKTV series Peaky Blinders.

Peaky Blinders, season 1 & 2 on Netflix

Dark and brutal, with a star-studded cast, Peaky Blinders makes for a great binge because there are only six episodes per season, which means it's easily conquerable in a long weekend.

It's gritty and cinematic, with high production values courtesy of the BBC, and has something in common with the family feuding and dark political machinations of Boardwalk Empire, while also illuminating the dark and dirty side of British life in the same way period dramas like The Knick or Ripper Street do.

Set in post-WWI Birmingham, it looks on a town doing it tough - people are disillusioned, money is scarce, and crime is rife. Irish star Cillian Murphy plays Tommy Shelby, the head of a family gang known as Peaky Blinders for the razors they keep in the peak of their hats, to inflict bloody damage for any slight or disrespect.

Sam Neill in a scene from the TV show Peaky Blinders.
Sam Neill in a scene from the TV show Peaky Blinders.

Sam Neill is Chief Inspector Chester Campbell sent from Ireland to Birmingham to clean up the streets, and rid the city of its "communist" presence, who becomes obsessed with the Blinders gang, and initially seems like he might just be smart enough to beat the Shelby's at their own game.

Mad Max star Tom Hardy also appears in the second season as the Jewish head of a rival gang in Camden Town named Alfie Solomons, an unpredictable, violent, but intelligent man who runs a bakery, aka a distillery, and is know for his intimidating negotiating skills.

But central to them all are two female characters who have more control over these men than they realise. Helen McCrory plays Aunt Polly Gray (nee Shelby), the Blinders gang matriarch who's the only one with any influence over Tommy. She runs the gang like a business operation, dedicated to looking after her family and making sure the city knows who's really in charge.

And then there's Annabelle Wallis playing Grace Burgess, who appears to be an enchanting Irish barmaid with a wonderful singing voice, but is actually working undercover for Chief Inspector Campbell, as a means to get close to Tommy, who's seemingly suspicious of her intentions, but curious nonetheless, and it's not long before Grace is entangled in the Blinders world.

Underneath it all runs a host of political tension between returned servicemen with communist leanings, the IRA, and various international smuggling operations, with Churchill desperate to keep things in order, and avoid any sort of revolution.

But though that might all sound rather serious, with strands of romance, horse racing, and the plotting of clever tricks throughout, Peaky Blinders manages to find plenty of spark in the grimy downtrodden streets of Birmingham.

For fans of: Boardwalk Empire and Ripper Street.
Better than: The Knick
Not as good as: The Wire

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