A star rating of 3 out of 5.

These days, a new Steven Knight show isn't necessarily a major story - there are so many at various stages of production and development that it can almost be hard to keep track.


However, given the continued love that fans have for his biggest hit, Peaky Blinders, Knight's return to a drama set in Birmingham? That's something very much worth paying attention to.

In fact, This Town isn't just a return to the Midlands for Knight, it is in fact a celebration of the area, and was first pitched to viewers as a series about the era of ska and two-tone music.

More recent statements made regarding the series have back-tracked from this somewhat, noting the additional thriller aspects surrounding the show and its political storylines.

Having now seen four of the six episodes, it's understandable why this clarification was needed. This is not a series solely about the rise of ska and two-tone music - it's just that, perhaps, it should have been.

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Levi Brown as Dante Williams and Eve Austin as Jeannie Keefe in This Town sitting in a blue van looking into camera with a space suit in the background
Levi Brown as Dante Williams and Eve Austin as Jeannie Keefe in This Town. Banijay Rights/Kudos/Robert Viglasky

This Town follows Dante Williams (Levi Brown), a young man living in Birmingham during the 1980s who thinks differently to those around him.

He's a somewhat naive dreamer, and a poet, who one day, on the advice of his friend Jeannie (Eve Austin), decides to set his poetry to music, and bring together a band in order to achieve this ambition.

One of his first ports of call is his cousin Bardon Quinn (Ben Rose), who has plenty going on in his own life at the time. He's been roped into doing dangerous work for his father, an Irish rebel, and his gang operating out of Coventry.

Then, we meet the key character of Gregory Williams (Jordan Bolger), Dante's brother who is struggling with his role in the army, and who finds himself on a collision course with Bardon, threatening to tear the family apart.

Other crucial characters include Fiona (Freya Parks), Dante's love interest and muse who works at a record shop, Estella (Michelle Dockery), Bardon's alcoholic mother, and Deuce Williams (Nicholas Pinnock), Dante and Gregory's father.

Ben Rose as Bardon Quinn in This Town holding a bucket
Ben Rose as Bardon Quinn in This Town. Banijay Rights/Kudos/Robert Viglasky

In truth, that's only just scratching the surface of the characters and plotlines that fill the show's runtime, and therein lies the biggest issue with This Town - it's just simply got far too much going on.

It's not necessarily a bad thing for a series to be somewhat difficult to define, but This Town really does stretch those limits. It isn't really possible to lay out the plot, at least not in any way that is succinct.

On one level, you'd think it's about the creation of the band, but then you realise it's actually about the politically febrile nature of the Midlands during that time.

Then, you realise it's neither of those, and is in fact about the family drama. Then a scene will come along which makes you think it was about the music all along, and round and round it goes.

The series feels like a mish-mash of ideas, with Knight unable to settle on just doing one, then struggling to form the multiple concepts and characters into a cohesive whole.

Jordan Bloger as Gregory Williams and Nicholas Pinnock as Deuce Williams in This Town, stood next to each other in church and wearing black
Jordan Bolger as Gregory Williams and Nicholas Pinnock as Deuce Williams in This Town. Banijay Rights/Kudos/Robert Viglasky

This lack of narrative clarity also hampers the pacing. Because so much time is spent diverting away from it, the musical storyline moves forward at a snail's pace, with artificial barriers to Dante simply putting the band together continually getting in the way.

It's a shame because, in spite of these issues, there is a lot to like about This Town, perhaps most notably the absolutely spot-on casting.

Not only are established stars such as David Dawson, Pinnock and especially Dockery exceptional, but the younger up-and-coming cast members are also terrific finds.

Knight's shows have prior when it comes to this - just look at the likes of Joe Cole and Daryl McCormack, both of whom shot to fame, at least in part, because of their roles in Peaky Blinders.

Here, one can certainly imagine Brown, Rose, Austin, Parks, Bolger (who came from Peaky Blinders himself) and more going on to have glittering careers, given the life, the verve and the complexity they give their varied characters.

Each of them has such a different job to do, but not only do they accomplish these with their textured, assured performances, but Knight's writing really sings when it comes to characterisation.

Dante and Gregory could not be more different, but their interactions and their love for one another as brothers feels authentic.

Michelle Dockery as Estella in This Town wearing a purple dress with arms outstretched
Michelle Dockery as Estella in This Town. Banijay Rights/Kudos/Robert Viglasky

Beyond the excellent character work, it's also a soulful series, with a real sense of time and place. As someone who comes from the Midlands, this critic found it to be a welcome, authentic slice of representation for the area, when so much of the TV drama landscape remains London-centric.

It's clear that Knight is most at home in writing about the city and its people, able to draw not only on his own experiences, but also on the specific humour of the area and its sense of community.

The show has also got an absolutely cracking soundtrack, as any series even vaguely about music should, and a visual style which might not be revolutionary, but which does effectively seep you in '80s nostalgia.

It all makes for an evocative mood piece, with atmosphere to spare and engaging characters - it's just in the sprawling narrative where things fall down somewhat.

Freya Parks as Fiona in This Town, leaning against the counter in a record shop and looking at the camera
Freya Parks as Fiona in This Town. Banijay Rights/Kudos/Robert Viglasky

Having not yet seen the final two episodes, it's difficult to say whether the series will come together in the end. When speaking with RadioTimes.com, Rose said that he felt like this season was a "brilliant way of setting up all the characters" ahead of future instalments of the show.

At times, that's what this feels like - a preamble, setting the stage for the real story to start in a second season. It's a tactic which is always a risky gambit. Just last year it felt like it somewhat dented the appeal of The Gallows Pole, the first and so far only season of the show, which acted as Shane Meadows's prequel to the book of the same name from which it was adapted.

One feels that if Knight wanted to make a series about the rise of a band during the ska and two-tone era, he should have done that - have them start to form by the end of the first episode and chart their highs and lows across the remaining five episodes.

Instead, it feels like he's slowed everything down to make way for more thriller aspects, perhaps inspired by the love Peaky fans have for its more action-packed sequences.

While both of these are effective storylines in their own right, they spend too much of the show's runtime jostling for relevance, with not enough happening in either of them, or any of the additional subplots.

Here's hoping it's a trait of the series which can be brought under control, should a second run be commissioned. If that is the case, then this could be a phenomenal ongoing series - the characters are rich enough to make that a reality.

But whether that happens remains to be seen.

This Town will be available to stream on BBC iPlayer from 6am on Sunday 31st March, while the first episode will air on BBC One at 9pm. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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