“We’re not the Peaky f*** Blinders unless we’re together,” thundered Michael (Finn Cole) outside John’s rural pile as Esme and her husband suggested a Christmas dinner to extinguish any unpleasant thoughts about Mafia hits.
“We’re staying at home,” insisted Esme (Aimee Ffion-Edwards) before a nearby hay cart was rapidly disassembled and Mafia hitmen disturbed the peace of the Midlands morning with submachine gun fire.
It seems highly likely from what we saw that there is no way John is going to get out of this one alive. Michael, too, was hit and it certainly looks touch-and-go as far as he is concerned.
So farewell, John? Probably. But it’s definitely hello to perhaps the deadliest feud known to the Peaky Blinders as the New York Mafia descend on Brum following the delivery of a Black Hand – Cosa Nostra-speak for an unmistakable promise of death.
“Merry Christmas to you and your family from Luca Changretta and family,” wrote the card, the meaning of which was never in doubt.
The threat – or “mafia s**t” as Cillian Murphy’s Tommy called it rather poetically, I thought – is revenge for the death of Luca Changretta’s father Angel at the hands of the Peakys in series three.
And it was disturbing to watch the fallout. Paul Anderson, the actor who plays battle-hardened Arthur, was overwhelmed minutes after witnessing the series opener at the press screening. “I got very tearful watching my brother John get shot,” he said. “It’s not nice to see that kind of violence. I can’t believe it touched me like that. Tears started welling up.”
It was an opening episode which never let up the pace. Up till that dramatic conclusion, Tommy had managed to save key Peakys, including Helen McCrory’s Polly, from the noose with a last-minute appeal to the King. In exchange for burning incriminating correspondence garnered from a Hampton Court robbery, they were saved just as the rope was quite literally tightening around their necks.
Tommy also secured himself an OBE as part of the bargain, the cheeky sod.
But even in a world of rough, tough 1920s gangsters, people don’t easily forget being shopped to the police and standing on the executioner’s scaffold. And it was clear that the impact was great even when we joined the action a year after the family’s last-minute repreive.
John (according to Esme) “s*** himself” on the scaffold. But the lingering effects were toughest on Polly who seems to have gone a bit deranged in the intervening twelve months, boozing, holding séances, and talking to the dead. As actress Helen McCrory said at the press launch, Polly – unlike the male members of the gang who had been through the First World War – hasn’t faced the prospect of her demise in quite the same way before.
But when it comes to grudges, it’s hard to beat the Mafia delegation headed by Adrien Brody as Luca Changretta himself.
Will he be even more dangerous than Paddy Considine’s Father Hughes? He certainly seemed to carry a good deal of menace, hardly saying anything all episode except for a little joke to the customs official who asked him the purpose of his visit. “Pleasure,” he smirked. Yikes.
Of course, the Black Hand prompts Tommy to leap to action, leaving his life in a five star hotel and the delights of whisky sours and professional women to get the boys together.
Arthur, too, has a hankering for the old life. We found him keeping chickens in his bucolic idyll with his wife Linda: “I have been served a Black Hand and she [Linda] won’t even let me have a spud gun in the house”. Well, he’ll be armed to the teeth in episode two.
Tommy, meanwhile, has another adversary in the form of Jessie Eden (Charlie Murphy, below). She’s a fiery union boss modelled on a real-life firebrand who was very active in Birmingham in the 1920s, (the era of the General Strike) and is going to cause a stir at the very least.
Kudos to writer Steven Knight for spotting that rather timely subject of the gender pay gap as Jessie promised that “the whistles will blow all over Birmingham” if Tommy doesn’t offer fair pay to the women in his many workplaces.
Jessie made her entrance in some style, marching into the Shelby offices and using the gents lavatories because there weren’t any ladies restrooms within striding distance. Will she be able to prick Tommy’s conscience this series and herald a feminist revolution? Knowing Tommy, I would bet on them becoming lovers as well as adversaries.
In the meantime, it looks like the Mafia will be pushing the Peakys to their limits
He’s a complicated man, is our Tommy. Superstitious and wild, yes, but he’s arch-rationalist too as he showed when he uncovered the Mafia plant in his own home (when a gift of £10 to the kitchen boy meant “f***ing nothing to him”).
“You’re the wild gypsy boy forever Tommy,” Johnny Dogs tells him just prior to cleaning up the dead hitman in the Shelby scullery.
He will need everything he’s got to face his latest threat. The gypsy boys v the Mafia. Who’s your money on?