It’s been 10 years since Peaky Blinders’ first season, at least in show years, and the feeling of time past, and a new era beginning, has never been so tangible: Season 5 picks up in 1929, and change is in the air.
Some of that change is instigated by Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), leader of the Peaky Blinders, scourge of Birmingham, factory owner, crime lord, husband, father and now Member of Parliament. Because yes, after Season 4 saw Tommy blackmail the Crown with a private letter from King George V into endorsing him politically, he has now run and won an election campaign that has got him a seat at Westminster – a big step from the West Midlands and a giant leap from illegitimate dealings to public-facing service.
Or is it? That’s where Steven Knight’s gangster drama really finds fresh promise at the start of its fifth season, as it uproots the Shelby patriarch and places him in an unfamiliar environment – but one that just might be even more cutthroat and crooked than the streets of Longbridge.
Before he can even deal with that challenge, though, Season 5 opens with the Wall Street Crash, which leaves the Selby family in disarray and their finances reeling. That means Michael (Finn Cole) returns from his exile in America to face the music – bringing with him one of the season’s notable guest stars, in the form of Anya Taylor-Joy as Michael’s wife – and the rest of the family gathers to work out what to do.
Tommy, of course, is the brains of the bunch, but it’s fascinating to see how the power dynamics of the clan has changed over the years: Paul Anderson, in particular, shines as Arthur Shelby, who is now trying to be the chairman of the company board, despite not having a clue of how to use that power (much to the frustration of his wife). Even his moustache bulging with insecurity.
If Arthur’s a fish out of water, though, Tommy really is; even when he makes a rousing speech, his thunder is stolen by the intrigue of seeing a new threat on the edge of frame: Oswald Mosley (yes, that one), played with thoughtful gravitas by Sam Claflin. Cillian Murphy is the undisputed star, though, and his utterly magnetic presence is showcased in one standout scene that simply sees him sit and answer questions from a journalist, his eyes piercing and his forehead twitching with anger at being scrutinised so readily. It’s a tour de force from the actor, who has settled into the part of Tommy Shelby so naturally and completely that you could happily watch him just sit on a horse for an hour and still be riveted.
While Season 5’s opener is relatively understated, that mature confidence is backed up by stylish, cinematic visuals when needed – including, of course, the signature Peaky slow-mo. But what’s most stunning is the sense that Tommy may not be as invincible as he once was in his own back yard: like the Wall Street Crash, what if the change in the air is something he can’t control after all?
Peaky Blinders Season 5 is available on BBC iPlayer, with new episodes arriving weekly on Sundays at 9pm.