There are a slew of gangster films and TV shows out there, and another addition to the oversaturated genre makes audiences feel burnt out. Strangely enough, there is one show that has elevated the genre for TV and makes the gangster genre enjoyable once again. 

Peaky Blinders is a British crime drama that follows the Shelby crime family directly after World War I. The fictional Irish-Romani family is loosely based on the real gang of the same name which the show creator and writer Steven Knight had family relatives connected to.

So what is it about Peaky Blinders that allows it to connect with so many people? Behind the Curtain breaks down the writing process of the show to find that Knight’s direct connection and characterization of Thomas “Tommy” Shelby (Cillian Murphy) make the audience connect to the show in a way many crime dramas can’t. 

Check out the full video below: 

Inspired by Steven Knight’s family 

As mentioned earlier, Peaky Blinders is inspired by Knight’s family who lived in Birmingham, England. Growing up, Knight’s family would tell him stories about their childhoods in Birmingham and the violent lives of the Peaky Blinders. They told Knight about how they would dress, what they did, how people felt about them, and how life was at that specific moment in time. 

It was a drama told through the memories of a child, and that is how Knight writes the stories. The memory of childhood tends to be a bit more dramatic. Since there is a possibility that the stories stray away from the truth a tad, there is room to stylize the story to mimic the drama in a way that feels true and fabricated all at once. 

Unlike film, stories for TV take longer to develop, and they allow room for characters, places, and themes to grow over time. For British television, this gangster story rooted in their home is a world that has never been explored before, and having the freedom to create a series without any expectations gives Knight the freedom to tell the story he wants to be told.

The historical movie and TV genre'Peaky Blinders'Credit: Endemol Shine Group

The location as a character

Knight stayed true to the Peaky Blinders’ original location of Birmingham for a few reasons. Birmingham became a central location for all things industrial in England after World War I, but still proved to be a victim of the unsanitary health conditions and overcrowding that was prevalent in most urban areas at that time. 

This grim setting brings to life the dark underbelly of urban life in the hyperreality of Peaky Blinders. This visual is a point of reference for the time period, but the sound design brings the location to life as if it were a character in the show. The burning furnaces, cobblestone streets, and sounds of people stepping through puddles make the city of Birmingham feel alive and active in how the characters react to the changing world around them. 

Peaky_blinders_birmingham_location'Peaky Blinders'Credit: Endemol Shine Group

The brilliance of Tommy Shelby

Peaky Blinders has a powerhouse list of characters that are fun to watch. Each character is completely realized by Knight, having direct inspiration from real-life people in Knight’s life. Arthur (Paul Anderson) is a man living his life at a crossroads. He is loyal to his family, his wife, and the gang, but when they all ask him to choose one over the other, his life begins to shift dramatically. 

Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory) was based on Knight’s father’s aunt and is the heart of the show for a multitude of reasons. Polly dives into the struggles of being the matriarch of the Shelby family and lives a double life of being both strong and vulnerable. 

The character that the audience connects to the most is Tommy. When we meet him in the show, Tommy is a broken man thanks to the terrors of World War I. He had the worst job any man could have in the war as a clay kicker, a man who dug through tunnels to get through enemy lines. Many clay kickers would die from being torn apart by bombs, crushed by the weight of the soil collapsing on top of them, or drowning from the water that would rush in when the explosive detonated. 

Tommy’s trauma made him a man who had no fear. His trauma turned into ambition. There is a burden from being spat back into society after the war that affects his moral compass. While audiences cannot connect with all of the decisions Tommy makes, there is still a connection of feeling as if the world has discarded you. The devastation of being used for a purpose and left behind is a feeling all too prevalent with audiences, and Knight understands this fully when writing Tommy’s character. 

Peaky_blinder_tommyCillian Murphy as Thomas "Tommy" Shelby in 'Peaky Blinders'Credit: Endemol Shine Group

Dramatizing the world he only knew through stories, Knight created a show that is relatable to the average viewer. Sure, we are not all out there shimming through holes, running a gang in England, or committing crimes against society, but we are all trying to survive and find our purpose in the world. Peaky Blinders connects Knight's family stories to a simple human desire, which is why so many people enjoy watching the show. It explores the ugliest and purest forms of complex human beings at a time when everything feels lost. 

In the end, good writing will always stand apart from the rest of the shows and films in a genre. Good writing and fully realized characters are why the shows we label as the best shows in TV history are celebrated today. Write a show that feels authentic to the story you want to tell, and people will tune in to watch it every week. 

Have you watched Peaky Blinders? Tell us your thoughts on the show in the comments below!

Source: Behind the Curtain