So, I seem to be on a Netflix original kick lately and just got around to seeing Peaky Blinders. If you have yet to see this show, I highly recommend that you remedy that foolish error immediately. Here’s a taste:
Right? It’s like a perfect combination of every current television trope Americans love but with a British filter. Morally ambiguous anti-hero trying to make it big? Check. Family drama? Check. Oppressed minority fighting against oppressive system? Check. British accents? Check. Gratuitous sex and violence? Multiple checks.
Of course, this program provided insights beyond its base entertainment value, and I decided to analyze and write on some of them. As always SPOILERS ahead.
The show focuses on the actions of Thomas Shelby (played by the incredible Cillian Murphy) as he tries to gain an upper-hand in the British criminal underground for himself and his family. Being Irish in early 1900’s Britain, Thomas is already at several disadvantages in life. However, he has clear goals of what he wants to accomplish and, unlike his family and peers, actually has the ambition and brains to make his dreams a reality, regardless of the consequences or costs.
For most of the series, Thomas’s rise and actions mirrors those of his nemesis, Inspector Chester Campbell (played by Sam Neill in an odd Irish accent). They are both ambitious, ruthless, intelligent, cunning, and dangerous individuals at opposite ends of the law (though not necessarily the moral or ethical spectrum). In fact, Campbell makes a note of their similarities later on in season 1, but Thomas remarks that unlike Campbell Thomas has his family, so he will never be alone while Campbell will most likely die so. This brings us to the first lesson of Peaky Blinders, and in many ways the rules of being the oppressed minority, when faced with impossible odds family & comrades come first.
While Thomas’s devotion and affection for his family and loved ones is exploited by Inspector Campbell, it is ultimately his saving grace and driving force. As well, it is a trait that Campbell envies in Thomas because he knows that it is something that he cannot have; family and actual love. Thomas manages to exasperate Campbell with this knowledge and understanding throughout the series to his advantage.
Thomas is trying to rewrite his stars and create a new world around him. Such actions usually require a certain level of blind naivete and sheer force of will. Everything and virtually everyone is working against him, at times even his own family. The sheer nerve of a man wanting to change his position in life; what arrogance he must hold. Yet, here he is doing what must be done to do so. It is within this miasma of uncertainty and chaos that Thomas thrives. It is probably the within these situations that the audience sees him as he truly is.
To all outsiders, he is simply an undeserving upstart unaware of his true place in life. A yelping dog that must be reigned in and reminded of his position; that is what Thomas Shelby is to all those he opposes. However, it is this notion that gives Thomas a needed advantage because unlike his idiot enemies he does not underestimate the tenacity, intelligence, or ability of his opposition. Thomas used every available resource at his disposal and never once considered himself above his foes because he knew what the results of such arrogance could be from his time in war.
Still nothing can ever be gained if nothing is ventured. Thomas is trying to build a legitimate empire that will last generations for the Shelby clan long after his demise. Ambitions of such a high nature and stake require stark choices and sacrifices. Thomas is ready to make those choices. He manipulates his family and friends and allies. He kills those who oppose him and even those who call him brother when necessary. He is perfectly able and willing to play king, crown, and the police to further his agenda.
Thomas Shelby knows who and what he is. He knows what he wants and what it will take to get there. He is even willing to surrender and give up his own heart to ensure his, and his family’s, legacy.
Thus endeth today’s lesson.