Playing a Peaky Blinder

Fionnuala Walsh

Credit: BBC

With a signature slow-mo strut through the grimy, smoke-choked streets of Birmingham, the Peaky Blinders are back for a fourth season of the BBC gangster drama.

The dramatic opening sees the Shelby family being marched to the noose after Tommy (Cillian Murphy) turned his whole family into the police in the final scenes of the last season. In true Peaky Blinders fashion, Tommy’s schemes come to fruition with perfect timing, sparing the lives of his family and demanding an OBE, a medal from the crown, just to push his luck. The prelude is a good reset for the new season, and allows us to jump forward a year without lingering on the family’s recovery.

Tommy is now estranged from his family and living with his son in the mansion he bought through his numerous criminal enterprises. Apart from the kitchen staff, business associates and whores, Tommy seems content to be alone after the death of his wife in the last season, and without his family to intrude on his now thriving business.

Events of the fourth season are kick started when the fractured Shelby family all receive sinister Christmas cards marked with a black hand, a death threat from the Italian Mafia. Tommy calls for the family to regroup where their business began, in the grungy, industrial streets of Birmingham.

This season pulls the Peaky Blinders further down into the international criminal scene with Oscar winner Adrien Brody playing infamous Mafia boss Luca Changretta. The show is known for its strong antagonists and attracting successful film actors into the six episode format.  Sam Neill played the vile Inspector Campbell in the first two seasons and Tom Hardy stood out as Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons.

The first episode The Noose shows us how the family was left shattered after their imprisonment and close shave with execution. Polly passes her time with delirious gin-soaked séances, while her son Michael maintains a cocaine habit and still does business with Tommy. Arthur is firmly under the thumb of his wife Linda and is living a dull, quiet life in the country. Esme and John are still fighting in their typical way, but all is disrupted with the arrival of Changretta and his mob.

Irish actor Aiden Gillen from Game of Thrones and The Wire fame will appear in later episodes as gypsy hitman Aberama Gold, who is hired by the Peaky Blinders for protection against their growing list of enemies.

Also new to the cast is Charlie Murphy, who plays real-life trade union activist Jessie Eden. Her appearance roots the show in its historical context, the post-war working class city of Birmingham with the promise of the 1926 general strike hanging in the air. Eden joins the cohort of fierce female characters in the show, and will prove to be a match for even the untouchable Tommy Shelby.

The shocking end to the first episode clears a violent path for the new season, with higher stakes, more powerful enemies and a fragmented family. No doubt Tommy will get a grand plan in place, but will wits alone be enough this time?