Testosterone wafts off Peaky Blinders like moisture evaporating off a stallion’s flanks on a frosty November morning.
And that’s about as poetic as you can be talking about this show, especially this week. The horse theme might gallop through the entire episode, but so too does an over-reliance on violence and profanity. None of it directed at horses, though. Rest easy, Dobbin.
Peaky Blinders has never been afraid of showing its red right hand (or indeed its iPod full of covers of ‘Red Right Hand’ – two, this week), and that’s fine. We’re halfway into Season 2, we’ve seen some bloody sights, we know what we’ve signed up for. But occasionally, like a toddler on a startled donkey, the show gets a bit carried away. The violence moves from being necessary to gratuitous. Its depiction lacks the finesse of what is otherwise unimpeachably cool drama.
This week it starts easy, with a garrotting during a horsey puppet show, and works its way up by degrees to an almost Itchy & Scratchy level of violence. Harold Hancock gets through to the second round of Peaky Blinder’s X Factor style auditions, only to have his throat cut by Mr Sabini’s men. One of Sabini’s hoods has his face pulverized and his throat chewed out by a Arthur Shelby (who, in keeping with the equine them, is riding the white horse, as they’re yet to call cocaine back then).
By the time the credits clang down you’re so desensitised to it that you could watch a pony being turned into lasagne and not flinch. ‘If less is more, just think how much more more would be!’ seems to be the prevailing thought. It’s not a problem of squeamishness, it’s that it’s all a bit much, a bit childish in its desire to shock. Especially when the show can speak for itself in so many other ways.
Often very angry ways. Everyone is so cross. Tom Hardy continues to be a perpetually twitching fist of anger. If Noah Taylor got anymore furious his moustache would combust above his sweary mouth. Arthur Shelby is half man, half bulging neck veins. Sam Neill seems to have been brought back this season just to growl at the residents of Small Heath, but the saving grace is that he is very very good at it.
(He’s also very good at unintentional humour: ‘I recommend The Daily Mail. It’ll broaden your mind’, Campbell says. Allow yourself a moment to chortle).
Only Cillian Murphy is continually glacial in this boiling sea of manly hormones. The ability to refrain from even frowning is what makes him our anti-hero. Eyebrows may be raised though, as he eyes up more than the fillies at an equine auction. Upper-crust May Fitz-Carleton (Charlotte Riley) is a wonderfully balancing presence amid the gunplay and dick swinging.
She’s a transfusion of class in an episode that spilled a lot of blood. But her presence is likely as close to Downton Abbey as the brutal Peaky Blinders is ever going to get. Unless Carson the butler starts doing an Alfie Solomon and stoves the staff’s heads in with pipes. Has he? I’ve not caught up on this season yet…
Airs at 9pm on Thursday 16 October 2014 on BBC Two.
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