As fantasies go, few are as fascinating to people as the idea of being a gangster. For decades, countless books, comics, movies and TV shows have given people many a villain to become enamored with. But what most people don’t know is that anyone can be a gangster.
From genre standards like The Godfather, Goodfellas and The Sopranos to cult classics such as Reservoir Dogs, we’ve seen the role of “gangster” portrayed in so many different ways. We’ve seen the traditional mafia and crime gangs, as well as comic book villains and unorthodox/unexpected characters, nail the role.
So, what do we at No Coast Bias think about gangsters? Join us as we take a look at some of the industry classics and put together the ultimate fantasy gangster teams. Deep down inside, everyone wants to be a gangster.
Peaky Blinders, the BBC Two original program, is one of the best shows on television and available on Netflix right now. Unfortunately, almost every time I want to talk about it with someone I’m hit with some variation of “oh, I’ve heard of that show I just haven’t watched it yet.” Folks, this is inexcusable.
For a show that is, in my opinion, the best gangster show since The Sopranos, it is not enjoyed by nearly enough. So, my goal, in the next 1,000 words or so, is to convince you to put Peaky Blinders in your Netflix queue so that we can talk about it because I like talking about TV shows.
Here we go.
1. It’s BADASS
Most gangster shows and movies are cool, and so is Peaky Blinders, but it’s cool in a different way. Like, The Godfather and The Sopranos are cool because of their elegance. They revel in the subtle plot movements and character developments. Goodfellas is cool because of its style and humor. If these productions were cars, they’d be a classy Jaguar or Rolls-Royce.
If Peaky Blinders were a car, it’d be a Pontiac Firebird. It’s just badass. But in a completely different way. It comes from its breakneck pace, its propensity for violence (the Peaky Blinders put razor blades in their caps and use them to blind their enemies) and its killer soundtrack.
Red Right Hand by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds is the theme played during the credits of every episode, in one way or another. The rest of the soundtrack features other blues-type, funk-heavy rock songs that’ll get your blood pumping as the gang walks in slow motion towards the camera (they do that a lot, but again, it’s cool). It’ll make you think of wearing three-piece suits with time-pieces more often.
[Side note: this is a pretty good fan-made tribute video that encapsulates the vibe and feel of the show probably better than I can with words without giving away spoilers. The only other video you can watch and avoid spoilers for later seasons is the trailer for season one, if you’re interested in that.]
2. It’s Very Bingeable
Dare I say, there is not a show on Netflix or any other streaming service that lends itself to being binge watched more than Peaky Blinders. There are only six episodes to a season, each an hour long. The relative shortness of the seasons means every episode is jam-packed with action. There are no filler episodes, every scene has a purpose that drives the plot forward leading up to the climax of the season, the finale.
I’ve never seen a show consistently use its season finale as well as Peaky Blinders does season after season. It’s always the most exciting and gripping episode, as each story arc meets for an epic climax. There’s always a few twists and turns you don’t expect, and by the end, you’re practically exhausted. It’s an easy binge watch for a weekend and I guarantee by the end of the first season you’re going to be hooked.
Not to mention, Peaky Blinders only gets better with each new season as they add new characters as allies and enemies of the Shelby family. Each season ramps up the violence and stakes, making for intoxicating television.
3. It’s Aggressively British
I think we’ve all pretty much decided that, for some reason, England just makes better television than America. I don’t know how they do it but they do. Peaky Blinders is another BBC production, but it sets itself apart with its use of violence and swearing. Most British shows seemingly avoid such things but Peaky Blinders loves them. It’s not high-class England, its a dirt-poor, bar-fighting, horse-gambling grimy England that you don’t see often.
I’ve heard complaints that the accents are so thick that they can be hard to understand (which I get). If it’s really hard for you to follow the dialogue just throw on the subtitles, but trust me, your ears will adjust. Before long you’ll be yelling, in your best Birmingham accent, “by order of the Peaky foo*kin’ Blinders!”
4. Cillian Murphy
You may not be completely familiar with Murphy but odds are you’ve seen him before and enjoyed him as an actor. He’s a Christopher Nolan favorite, appearing in Batman Begins, Inception and, most recently, Dunkirk. He’s, in my opinion, one of best actors around today and it’s really a treat to watch him in Peaky Blinders as he gets to sink his teeth into the character of Thomas Shelby.
Thomas is the head of the Shelby family and Peaky Blinders gang that runs Small Heath and operates in Birmingham, England. At the start, they’re small-time bookmakers who slowly rise behind the leadership of Thomas in the criminal underworld of England.
The leader is the most important role of any gangster movie or TV show, and we’ve seen nearly every kind of gangster leader, from the charmingly nice to the sadistically ruthless. Murphy’s Shelby is somewhere in between. He doesn’t smile much (if ever) or offers really any sense of positive emotion, but he’s not altogether cold either. He’s quiet, speaking in hushed tones with a tense demeanor that makes it seem like anger is always bubbling towards the surface. And, of course, on occasion that anger bursts through. Shelby is also different in that he’s a veteran of WWI who has never been the same since returning from the frontlines of France. Now, family and power are all the matters to him.
Thomas Shelby is smart, calculating and unsympathetic to those outside his family. He always thinks 4, 5 steps ahead. He commands his two brothers, Arthur and John, like how a general would command his captains.
Don’t be fooled by Murphy’s slim stature, he holds a commanding presence in every room and situation. He’s not a character you’ll fall in love with, but he’s one you won’t be able to take your eyes off of.
5. The History
Now, history is usually not a huge draw for TV viewers but stay with me on this. We’ve seen every kind of gangster movie and TV show there is to offer, where Peaky Blinders differs is the historical context surrounding the characters and plot. Set just a few years removed from World War I, it’s a fascinating look at a transition period of history between the two great wars. It’s history that is rarely explored, especially in fictional television and movies.
Every character was affected by the first world war, and it affects their personalities and motivations. We also get to see some historical figures in a different setting than we’re used to, like a young Winston Churchill. We also see historically significant world events rise in real time, like the rise of communism in England and Russia. All in all, the historical context that the show is placed in adds a new twist to a type of story we’ve seen countless times.
6. The Guest Stars
This is more of an honorable mention, but I can’t talk about Peaky Blinders without mentioning my favorite character (and, honestly, one of my favorite characters in television history), Alfie Solomons, played by Tom Hardy. Alfie is the head of a Jewish gang that produces illegal rum in London. I don’t want to give too much away because he doesn’t show up until season two, but he, of course, has run-ins with the Shelbys, alternating between friend and foe.
Every scene he is in is enhanced by his mumbling wisdom and ability to be hilarious and absolutely terrifying, many times within the same sentence. Hardy, though, is one of just a few guest stars that show up throughout the series, like Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Paddy Considine (The World’s End) and Adrien Brody (The Pianist).
There, I hope I’ve convinced you to at least give Peaky Blinders a shot. Hell, talking about it so much as got me itching for some Brummie accents and gratuitous violence. I think I’m going to rewatch the last season again. Someone get me some scotch whiskey.