“Series five, I think, is the best so far. There’s lots of shocks, lots of surprises,” Peaky Blinders creator and writer Steven Knight declared at the London premiere for the much-anticipated new series – and judging by the first episode, he isn’t playing around.
As we know, the next chapter in the Shelby family story leaps forward two years and kicks things off with the Wall Street Crash of 1929. This is bad news for all Western industrialised countries and their economies, but it is particularly bad news for Tommy Shelby MP (Cillian Murphy) and his family, who have spent the decade since the Great War amassing their fortunes and building their businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.
Will the Shelbys lose it all? Or will Tommy come up with one of his infamous “plans” and save the day? The problem: how do you beat an enemy like the Great Depression?
In fact, series five almost seems like a psychological thriller. Where previous series have had the vibe of a Western, siege film or gangster movie, screenwriter Knight and his new director Anthony Byrne (of Butterfly, Ripper Street and Mr Selfridge) have given us a deep dive into Tommy Shelby’s psyche as he faces more nebulous enemies, including his own demons.
As fans will recall, when we last saw Tommy he was privately coming apart at the seams. As soon as he had nothing to do and no more enemies to fight, he was lost in “talking to myself about myself” in a heart-wrenching breakdown at the end of the series four finale.
He did stitch himself back together again with the help of Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory), coming up with a plan to enter politics, become an MP and infiltrate the communist movement – a storyline which will be the backbone of series five. But Tommy’s mental scars from the war have been a thread running through Peaky Blinders from the very first episode, and it is increasingly unclear whether those stitches will hold.
Given that so many of the show’s villains are dead, it also seems wise that series five is moving forward in a fresh direction. No more Luca Changretta (Adrien Brody) or Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) – who have followed Inspector Campbell (Sam Neill) and Father Hughes (Paddy Considine) and Billy Kimber (Charlie Creed-Miles) to the grave.
“Our enemies are gone. Dead. All of ’em,” Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson) announced at the end of series four. “For the first time since me and my two kid brothers, Tommy and John, enlisted in the Warwickshire Yeomanry. We have peace.”
Of course, peace never holds in the world of Peaky Blinders. But that does leave space for the BBC series to explore the question of whether you can truly leave the past behind, and also to take us to new places, including Parliament.
It also leaves space for a big series five guest star. Sam Claflin has joined the cast as Oswald Mosley, the British MP who later led the British Union of Fascists.
As the BBC vaguely teases in its official synopsis, “when Tommy Shelby MP is approached by a charismatic politician with a bold vision for Britain, he realises that his response will affect not just his family’s future but that of the entire nation.”
It remains to be seen how Tommy will navigate his encounters with Mosley, how series five will tackle the rise of fascism in the UK, and how this will affect whatever scheme Tommy is plotting next. But initial impressions suggest Claflin will give a smilingly sinister, discomfiting performance as the far-right politician.
While series five refreshes the story a little, Peaky Blinders fans will be pleased to find that all the elements we love are still at the core of the drama. Shelby family politics are never far beneath the surface, and there are some wonderful moments (both comic and tragic) featuring Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle), Arthur and Pol. You can also expect some sharp outfits, LOTS of cigarettes and whisky and shoot-outs, and a stylish musical score written by Anna Calvi.
And one more gem for the fans: episode one features an excellent slo-mo ‘Peaky walk’ through the streets of Birmingham. Destination: the Garrison pub…
Peaky Blinders series 5 will air on BBC1 later this summer