It’s been a long wait for more Peaky Blinders. When we resume creator Steven Knight’s epic Brummie crime yarn, it’s 1933, three years since the climactic events of season five’s 2019 finale. We dock at Miquelon Island, a French territory in Newfoundland in which the Blinders’ business has commercial interest. With prohibition finally coming to an end, Tommy (Cillian Murphy) is keen to replenish the incoming blow to his bootleg whiskey business by entering another illicit trade: opium. The problem is, Arthur (Paul Anderson) can’t stop sticking the stuff in his veins, while Michael (Finn Cole) – eyes dilated, hurt and hateful – loathes Tommy with an intensity that threatens to spill familial blood.
“Since we last met,” says Tommy early doors, “I’ve become a better man.” Not especially nicer – moments later he slashes a man across the face with a switchblade – but certainly in closer communication with his demons, and trying harder to keep them at bay. Early indicators suggest that season six – the final one – will see Michael’s wife Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy) move closer to the spotlight. Her uncle, Jack, the crime king of the east coast, will be positioned as this series big bad (or at least someone even more bad than Tommy). But in this first episode (the only one available to critics at the time of writing) it feels like anyone who has ever had a bone to pick with the Shelby family is closing in.
Elsewhere we get to see Tommy speak French in thick Brummie. We have Joy Division on the soundtrack and the poetry of William Blake sending a shiver up our spine. It should be said that the absence of Helen McCrory, who passed away last year from cancer, is handled sensitively and with care. The decisions made by Knight and director Anthony Byrne are respectful, beautiful, clever, and advance the story being told here in ways that fizzle with intrigue. The other Shelby women step up a gear too: Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle) has one of the lines of the episode (“Can you tell Johnny Dogs to come round up his fucking kids, it’s Christmas, a time for family”) while Tommy’s wife Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe), her glassy glare saying more than 20 pages of script, positions herself as an early contender for one of the planned spinoff shows currently in development.
Impressively, there’s nothing about the return of Peaky Blinders that feels forced, contrived – and that hasn’t always been the case in the five-preceding series. These are characters in which so much has been invested, and yet whose stories still have so much to play out. Best of all, we’ve got the return of Jewish mafioso Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) still to come. We might just be an hour into the most keenly anticipated finale of 2022, but we’re off to a start as impressive as any of Tommy’s prized mares.
‘Peaky Blinders’ series six premieres on BBC One this Sunday (February 27) at 9pm