Let’s talk about sound design. Hey where are you- no no, please stay, it’ll be interesting, I promise.
We take good sound design for granted. TV practically expects us to: awards for it are always briskly packed away in the ‘Earlier in tonight’s show…’ montages at the BAFTAs and Academy Awards. People only notice it when there’s chance to complain to Points of View, as they did earlier this year with Jmhkn Hrnn (subtitles: ‘Jamaica Inn’). And yet no one ever notices when it’s exceptional, as it is in Peaky Blinders.
So I’ll notice it here, because it’s not only one of the best looking shows to kick down your front door and spread itself across your screen, it’s also one of the best sounding, thanks to a crew too big to name individually. Not simply because of the moody Spotify playlist that’s in Tommy’s head and which manages to be anachronistic but utterly evocative of everything colliding around him, but also the noises that often say more about a character than words. In Peaky Blinders sound is also story.
There’s the rhythmic creak of bedsprings as Aunt Polly and a young buck silently enjoy the dog-eared highlights of the Kama Sutra; the threatening ‘CLANK! CLANK! CLANK!’ as Sam Neill’s Major ‘Clanky Cane’ Campbell approaches Tommy with ultimatums; and most evocative of all, the overwhelming roar of white noise that communicates the isolation and torment of Arthur Shelby’s post-traumatic stress. It’s an immersive experience, Peaky Blinders. This week it pulls you in ears first and holds your head to the screen.
On that screen is Tom Hardy, who once was the Bane of some hard-of-hearing cinema goers a while back, and who makes his debut in the show as rum ‘baker’ Alfie Solomon. He gives exactly the considered performance we’d expect of him.
Hardy is at once lyrical and intensely physical. Intimidation is in his every fibre, just as it is in every other character. Put him and Murphy in a room together, add a gun, and you have one of the most memorable scenes of TV in 2014. Also one of the most memorable speeches about a cabinet in 2014.
It says a lot about Peaky Blinders and the quality of its cast that you can drop another big Hollywood stone into this big mucky canal of a drama without its ripples swamping other characters. But the show can do that with confidence because everyone brings the sound and the fury.
Game of Thrones‘ Noah Taylor is marvellously unhinged as the ‘go to the mattresses’ gang-boss Sabini; Helen McCrory proves herself a grande dame of the screen in scene after scene, and never more so than when Aunt Polly is using a pistol to get her way; Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson) pummels a man into a mass of bloody man-porridge. This is a show that often looks horrific, and sounds terrific, but no character feels like they’re there to make noise and fill space.
So it’s five stars again. Peaky Blinders 2 is a series to shout about.
Airs at 9pm on Thursday 9 October 2014 on BBC Two.
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