Originally aired on BBC2, the Birmingham gangster series Peaky Blinders has recently been made available for American audiences (provided they have Netflix subscriptions) who might otherwise have missed out. Starring Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby, up-and-coming head of the gang known as the Peaky Blinders, the show recalls many HBO-style period dramas by favoring style over authenticity. But once you rub the Boardwalk Empire and Deadwood out of your eyes, the pilot plays quite well on its own two feet.
Created by Steven Knight (who directed the brilliant Locke), Peaky Blinders focuses primarily on the underhanded dealings of the various gangs of 1919 Birmingham. The pilot episode introduces Tommy as a contemplative foil to his otherwise short-fused gang cohorts, all of whom seem to have the same haircut. Cillian Murphy, as usual, holds the screen with ease. His silences often say more than an entire scene of dialogue between two lesser actors, but we’ll discuss the dialogue again in a second. The flip side of the story – at least in this pilot episode – comes in the form of the indomitable Sam Neill, who plays Chief Inspector Chester Campbell. Campbell, newly arrived to Birmingham, makes it his mission to clean the city of the nefarious gangs.