First look UK TV review: Peaky Blinders Season 6
James R | On 27, Feb 2022
This spoiler-free review is based on Episode 1 and 2.
“Since we last met, I’ve become a better man.” Those are the words of Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) at the start of Peaky Blinders’ final season. And a lot of time has passed since we last saw him: the show’s sixth chapter jumps several years on from Season 5, when we left the Shelby family crime lord in a field holding a gun to his own head – a broken man. We meet him now in 1933, on the final day of prohibition, and while he’s definitely undergone some inner transformations, it’s immediately – electrifyingly – clear that he’s lost none of his outward composure, confidence and class.
Those are key to his ability to swagger through history with such mesmerising style, and central to the appeal of Steven Knight’s magnificent, bombastic series. Part gangster saga, part Western, Peaky Blinders’ visually stunning epic succeeds because it always manages to marry its style with emotional substance. At the start of Season 6, a large part of that comes from the absence of Polly, played inimitably by the late Helen McCrory. While the specifics of how they address her character can’t be divulged, Knight’s cleverly crafted closing run balances looking backward with looking forward, making sure that, even as the show moves on towards the looming start of World War II, it still remembers those who have gone before.
Tommy’s also got other family problems to deal with, from his simmering rivalry with hate-filled Michael (Finn Cole) to his lost-cause brother Arthur (Paul Anderson), not to mention the steely resolve of weary wife Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe). This season promises to see Michael’s wife, Gina (the magnetic Anya Taylor-Joy), take centre-stage, as her own ambitions and connections with America bring a new scale – plus commercial opportunities – to the show. At the same time, there’s the growing threat of fascism and nationalism, with Tommy navigating increasingly complex demands and disagreements.
There’s a growing feeling that he’s caught somewhere in the middle of a rapidly changing world – from the return of Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) to the ongoing survival of Sir Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin) – and the riveting tension stems from seeing him repeatedly find ways to manoeuvre and manipulate those around him to come out on top, and possibly do the right thing at the same time. Six seasons in and Murphy still pulls this off with aplomb, whether he’s speaking French, reciting William Blake or walking slowly through shadowy churches and alleys soundtracked by impossibly cool needle-drops.
But no matter how far ahead of the game he seems to be, there’s a growing sadness that lingers behind his cold-blooded facade, one that speaks volumes about how far Tommy has come and how much it’s cost him to get there. Lingering in the back of our minds are some of Polly’s last words from Season 5: “There will be a war and one of you will die – but which one, I cannot tell.” Tommy may have become a better man, but will that be enough to get him through the conflict that awaits? It’ll be thrilling to find out.
Season 6 of Peaky Blinders begins at 9pm on BBC One on Sunday 27th February, with episodes arriving weekly.