By John Ruberry
Earlier this month Season 5 of Peaky Blinders arrived on Netflix. If you haven’t heard of the BBC show, it centers on a Gypsy organized crime gang from Birmingham, England.
The Peaky Blinders are named for the razor blades the actual hoodlums,-they were an 1890s gang–wore in their flat caps.
The television Peaky Blinders, who usually refer to themselves as the Shelby Company, Ltd., are led by Thomas “Tommy” Shelby (Cillian Murphy), a World War I veteran. The first season takes place in 1919, Season 5 begins in the auspicious year of 1929.
Tommy, at the end of Season 4, is elected to Parliament as a member of the Labour Party.
A new season of course brings a new primary villain, this time it’s Sir Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin), a minor member of the British nobility who also sits in the House of Commons. If you are American, it’s likely that you’ve never heard of Mosley, but he’s one of the most notorious figures of 20th century Great Britain. He didn’t go as far as Benedict Arnold did during the American Revolution, but had the Nazis defeated Britain in World War II, it’s probable that Mosley would have been prime minister—with Edward VIII restored to the throne. A 2005 poll of British historians determined that Mosley was the Worst Briton of the 20th century. Jack the Ripper took the title for the 19th. Mosley not surprisingly was a virulent anti-Semite.
Sir Oswald pursues Tommy as an ally while Winston Churchill (Neil Maskew) does the same. Maskew is the third actor to portray Churchill in this series. What’s up with that?
The Black Tuesday Wall Street Crash puts pressure on the rest of the Blinders, particularly Michael Gray (Finn Cole), who in the first episode of the season awakens from a stupor in Detroit to learn that the Shelby Company money he invested in America has evaporated. He wants a bigger say in the family business, as does his American wife (Anya Taylor-Joy). The family matriarch, Polly Gray (Helen McCrory), Michael’s mother, continues to struggle to keep the family from tearing itself apart, and their battles now directly effect her lover, Aberama Gold (Aidan Gillen). Tommy’s older brother, Arthur, continues to battle his “animal inside me.” While Tommy and Mosley, politically speaking, court each other, the Peaky Blinders face a new foe, the Billy Boys, a Scottish Protestant gang, who joyously sing their fight song, which is based on the melody of “Marching Through Georgia.” The Billy Boys hate Gypsies and Catholics–the Shelbys are both.
Peaky Blinders has always played loose with history. Lighten up, though, it’s fiction!
On the other hand…
As 1929 winds down, Mosely announces the formation of a new political party, the British Union of Fascists. But after leaving Labour, the real Mosley first formed another new party, called, well, the New Party. After that came his fascist party. I bring this up because in his introductory speech as leader of the BUF, Mosley, complaining about Indian competition forcing the closing of British textile mills, sounds a bit like Donald Trump, with a dash of UK Independence Party founder Nigel Farage thrown in. I’m not a fan of historical parallels with the present, particularly when it comes to individuals. And I get it, many people believe in “Orange Man Bad.” But sheesh, can TV scriptwriters give us a break from that for once?
I see Season 5, quality wise, as a step back for Peaky Blinders, but better than the Russian sinkhole two seasons back. But a Season 6 apparently is in the works, and maybe even a seventh. And perhaps we will see a couple of other men portray Churchill. The 1930s offers many plotlines as the world marches again to war. Still, even a below-par Peaky Blinders is worth your time.
Peaky Blinders is rated MA. It contains graphic violence, drug use, and overt sexual activity.
John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.