While many period TV shows choose to go off on their own timelines, Peaky Blinders has always looked to history when plotting new storylines. This trend continues as the show makes its welcome return for a fifth season, seeing the gang rocked by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 in its first episode.
The show has been flirting with a shift of focus to the US for a couple of seasons now, but appears to be fighting the urge to let the Shelbys loose on the east coast once more in season five. Aside from one scene in Detroit where Michael learns of the stock exchange’s plummet, the seismic event is viewed from afar in the opening episode, with Tommy getting the news while burying a horse somewhere in the rural Midlands.
Money worries aside, the Shelbys aren’t doing too bad given what a fraught, dour season four they had. We find Polly in a Monte Carlo hotel suite sleeping with a pilot, Thomas Shelby OBE DCM MM MP giving acerbic speeches in the House of Commons – even the previously abstinent Linda is seen doing lines of coke off a gilded desk. Tommy’s election to Parliament could have been a bit of a shark jump, but it was good fun seeing him in Westminster, a lonely cigarette smoker in a room filled with beards and pipes.
One problem with the twists in season four was how someone with such clear mob ties could operate as an MP, but the new episode tackles it head-on, with Tommy making short work of a journalist at The Times who was planning what was probably going to be a fairly lively newspaper profile on him.
The main new cast addition this season is Sam Claflin, who plays Oswald Moseley, a fellow MP of Tommy’s who will one day famously go on to lead the British Union of Fascists. That’s one potential antagonist for forthcoming episodes, with Moseley taking an interest in Tommy after hearing his speech about the Wall Street Crash. The other was only hinted at but could be this season’s rival gang, after the Peaky Blinders received menacing notes signed: ‘The Angels of Retribution’ and clashed with the mysterious gang in Chinatown.
Episode one is made with the craft and care we expect from the show by this point. Much like The Handmaid’s Tale (and not dissimilar from it, visually), Peaky Blinders has created a very defined aesthetic, all smoky, dimly lit rooms and opulent interiors. The cast is one of the best ever assembled for a British show, and creator Steven Knight continues to write forceful scripts filled with choice lines (Lizzie to Polly: “Well, if this is our campaign for socialism, than maybe next time you won’t wear rings worth more than the pub.”)
Hopefully Knight sticks to his plan to close the show at the start of World War II, and in making this rare move of revealing how the story will end, he’s caused viewers to obsess less about the characters’ fate and focus more on their arcs. Peaky Blinders may not have the tonal and thematic chops to put it in the pantheon of ‘best TV shows ever’, but it’s shaping up to be looked back on as one of the strongest crime dramas ever staged, and remains the only British show that can hold a candle to the big-budget box-set shows of the US.
Peaky Blinders returns tomorrow (August 26) at 9:30pm on BBC One.