Peaky Blinders (Monday, 8.30pm, UKTV) sounds like the name of a silly boys' gang from the old Beano comic, perhaps, and there is an element of silly boys in gangs about this series about a gang which is far more menacing, but also, somehow, cartoonish.
The Blinders are a nasty lot, so named because they have razor blades sewn into the peaks of their cloth caps with which they will slash your ears off, as soon as look at you. If you are slashed by Tommy Shelby (played by Cillian Murphy), who has beautiful blue eyes, he will look at you with his beautiful blue eyes before cutting you up.
Tommy is the best-looking and most charismatic of this large Birmingham family who are cutting things up all over the filthy, corrupt and disillusioned city. It is the first year after World War I and it is full of the men who came back, some of them insane; almost all of them disillusioned and haunted.
The Birmingham of Peaky Blinders looks like a war zone. It is all grime and fires on the streets and fear. In the opening scene a man rides a dark horse, bareback, through the dark streets. This is Tommy, or Mr Shelby, and when he arrives people run and hide. Men here wear cloth caps or bowler hats or top hats.
There is clandestine sex (a young woman of the Peaky Blinders clan is having it off with a Commie agitator, which is going to cause trouble) in grotty rooms and under canal bridges or at The Penny Crush, which is the flicks.
Many of the scenes are like strange dreams. A Chinese woman blows red powder into the horse's face; there is a singing Irish barmaid (who will turn out to be a police spy); a man known as Whiz Bang is suffering from what would now be called post-traumatic stress and goes mad and stabs an Italian man. Tommy shoots Whiz Bang in the back of the head, down by the canal, an act witnessed by two Italians.
"In the bleak mid-winter," recites Tommy as he pulls the trigger. It is an eye-for-eye act, carried out to avert outright war with the rival Italian gang. It is also trickery: Whiz Bang falls into a barge but he is not dead. He is now and forever a Peaky Blinder.
The Blinders have pinched a consignment of guns, which brings to Birmingham, a copper from London with a fearsome reputation. Detective Inspector Chester Campbell, played by Sam Neill, has cleaned Belfast of the IRA. Neill's copper's moustache makes a welcome return appearance, as does his brooding.
Campbell meets a young, and foppish, MP, Winston Churchill (Andy Nyman), on a train to discuss the way to tackle the pesky Peaky Blinders, and to get those guns back. "Love the hat, by the way," said Churchill. "Thank you. It's beaver," said the copper. That was one of a few moments when I had not the foggiest idea what was going on.
Peaky Blinders looks fantastic, if fantastically filthy and smoky and dark, but watching it is, so far, like wandering about Birmingham, just after the war, often aimless, trying to work out just who that is lurking around that corner and what it is they're up to. It is very stagey and sometimes this works and at other times it just feels stagey.
I suspect boys who read Beano might like it a bit more than I did. It is quite blokey, but then it is about gangs.
On a girly note, I was certainly intrigued by the hair. What strange hairdos those geezers had back then: Shaved on the sides and Hugh Grant floppy on the top. That the hair was, for me, quite a distraction might say something about how captivating, or not, the plot is.