REVIEW: Peaky Blinders (S5 E4/6)

Tommy Shelby might not have read anything by 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, but he does seem to follow his aphorism, “What does not kill me makes me stronger” and his penchant for living on the edge is reaching nauseating new heights in this series.

Mosley had Tommy pegged as unlettered, so he’s mildly surprised that the gypsy king has heard of Sigmund Freud. Indeed, Tommy knows his unconscious mind is working overtime with increasingly lurid visions of his dead wife Grace (Annabelle Wallis) – and it is certainly governing his behaviour to a great degree.

By contrast, you can bet Sir Oswald Mosley, played with ophidian-like slickness by Sam Claflin, has read every word of Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. The difference being that although he is also notoriously dodgy, he’s an ‘untouchable’ who prefers to allow others to put their lives on the line for him.

A case in point is that he’s brokered a deal that demands a suspension of hostilities between Tommy and Billy Boys’ leader Jimmy McCavern (Brian Gleeson) to help to conscript the muscle for his British Nazi Party.

This seems a tall order because Arthur and Aberama Gold (Aiden Gillen) blew away several of his men on the border last week.

In a tense stand-off at dawn, Tommy confronts the Scots Scarface swaying down the Shelbys’ stretch of the Grand Union Canal on a barge, waving his ‘little friend’ with wild abandon. “Mr Shelby! My bullets ache to get inside your tinker head.”

Loose-cannon brother Arthur (Paul Anderson) doesn’t strike us as an avid reader (or thinker, though nowadays he might have hummed along with Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger – “What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter”). He seems never to have left Freud’s latency period, and since wife Linda (Kate Phillips) walked out he’s sublimated his sexual energy using his only defence mechanism – threats and mindless violence. For light relief he’s forcing Billy Grade (Emmett J Scanlan), a footballer-turned-singer, to aid the gang’s profitable foray into match-fixing.

Arthur’s hair-trigger temperament is problematical when Tommy holds his MP surgery at The Garrison pub. He’s relegated to buying replacement pet goldfinches for a distraught woman whose husband killed them in a drunken rage (though both men breathe a visible sigh of relief when the ‘bodies’ she has brought with her, mercifully, aren’t children).

And you can bet that your MP doesn’t see constituents who get a functionary to hold his little brother at gunpoint elsewhere (and on the telephone) as leverage to involve him in a drug deal. Brilliant (Billy) Chang (Andrew Koji), who must be based on the real-life Chan Nan (born 1886-died – who knows?), a Chinese restaurateur and drug dealer who was implicated in supplying the drugs that killed a London club hostess. He also apparently had friends in high places including contracts with the British Admiralty.

Chang’s in Brum to make Tommy an offer he can’t refuse – the chance to make £250,000 – half of what Michael lost in the Wall Street Crash – by babysitting a hijacked consignment of drugs before it ships to the US. And it’s not the cocaine and hashish he’s been dabbling in – it’s going to put the family in the big league (cue another song) – it’s Golden Brown – seven tonnes of heroin.

No one, in the family, apart from Arthur, is even slightly queasy about heroin smuggling; Michael’s snotty wife Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy) sees it as a big step up from the Shelby coal yards.

Arthur is agitated by the deal, his anger over Linda, and having cut up her lover Peaky-style. Polly (Helen McCrory) has fobbed off the investigating police and advises Arthur to find someone else.

Tommy is also playing God with Aberama Gold, ordering him to hang fire on getting revenge on McCavern until after the deal. “When the business is done he’s all yours – you can avenge yourself in any way you see fit.”

“You mean when you say? When you’ve stopped that little stopwatch that controls the turning of the Earth?” says Gold. But then again, Tommy can bribe Gold with his heart’s desire – Polly’s hand in marriage.

In a Commons speech Tommy sells his soul to the devil completely, backing the foundation of a national socialist party as his erstwhile fan Winston Churchill (Neil Maskell) looks on in displeasure. Realising he is past the stage of redemption, Tommy later warns sister Ada (Sophie Rundle) to keep her baby well away from him once it’s born.

Eager to ingratiate himself with Mosley and to prove his erudition, Tommy invites him to stay at his mansion for a grand party with a performance of Swan Lake. This choice of entertainment is enough to set off alarm bells that life will imitate art. And so it proves; as Aberama and Polly, er, plight their troth, and the dying swan breathes her last, with blood-red silk sheets pulled out of her costume, more Shelby blood is simultaneously seeping into the majestic driveway with fast and overwrought scene-cutting between graceful fiction and shocking reality.

Tommy’s graveyard cough has been a talking point of late among the Peaky fanbase on social media. The smart money is now on Tommy dying not in a hail of bullets, but instead meeting his maker through illness brought on by his lifestyle excesses. So will Tommy Shelby peacefully drop dead in his garden, Vito Corleone-style? Nothing else in his life has been peaceful, so it would be a change of pace.

Deborah Shrewsbury




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