I’ve written two reviews of this series without talking about its theme music. Let’s remedy this omission, shall we?
The title track in the musical score of Peaky Blinders is always the song “Red Right Hand,” by Australian band Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. The song itself is dark and bluesy, with cryptic lyrics. If I didn’t already know better, I’d think the song was written specifically for this series. The lyrics “past the square, past the bridge/past the mills, past the stacks” jibe squarely with the industrial Birmingham setting of most of the episodes, and the lines “a tall handsome man/in a dusty black coat with/ a red right hand” seem to be invoking the mysterious Tommy Shelby himself, as he walks through the smoke in a factory or along the wharves.
There is debate, as there always is, over the meanings of the lyrics. It’s not about the Peaky Blinders, that’s for certain. Some have suggested that “red right hand” refers to Ireland, and Season 2 seemed to support that, when Major Campbell called upon the Red Right Hand to eliminate Tommy Shelby. At least one other Nick Cave song attributes the “red right hand” line to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, referring to divine vengeance. Some have said that the song was about Nick Cave’s uncle, who had molested him when he was a child. Surprisingly, the lyrics you don’t normally hear kinda bear that out as well. So . . . many interpretations.
Also many cover versions of the song, several of which have been played on the series.
Now, about Season 3. Another six, story-packed episodes about Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy), his family, and extended family, the Peaky Blinders. Creator Steven Knight has said that this saga about a crime family, with a Gypsy origin, would span the time between WWI and WWII. The series will end with the first air raid sirens sounding in Birmingham. Unless plans change, this means we’ll get seven seasons in total. As of today, with Season 5 already completed, only two seasons remain.
Warning: There may be SPOILERS AHEAD. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.
But, as Season 3 opens, we’ve jumped only two years since the end of the previous season. The year is 1924, and Tommy Shelby and Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis) are getting married. Yes, I know Grace was married, but her husband committed suicide between seasons, probably after learning that Charlie wasn’t his son. The ceremony goes off about as well as could be expected, which is probably not as well as most of us would wish.
The entire Shelby family seems to be putting on airs of respectability now to match their growing wealth. Arthur Shelby (Paul Andersen) has married the pious Quaker Linda (Kate Phillips), and is supposedly on the wagon as the season kicks off. Of course, we see him taking drinks of whiskey and he ends up killing a man during the first episode. Change is never easy, and often impossible.
The Peaky Blinders had been at odds with the Changretta Family since the first season, and their conflict boils to the surface during this season. Company secretary/former prostitute Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe) was banned from seeing Angel Changretta by the Blinders. To keep Angel from attending Tommy’s wedding with Lizzie, the Blinders burned down his restaurant. The Italians wanted an apology, but hot-headed John Shelby (Joe Cole) doubled down with threats and eventually blinded Angel. Shelby family matriarch Polly Gray (Helen McCrory) and Arthur both wanted John to apologize, but Tommy endorsed John’s actions and added further insult to injury by taking two Italian pubs by force.
“If we can, we do,” Tommy said, which is a great motto if you’re not worried about consequences to your actions. Oh, yeah. There are consequences.
The violence continues to escalate. Angel and his father are both killed by the Shelbys, but Arthur and John refuse to murder Mrs. Changretta, who was their former schoolteacher and “a good woman.” Mrs. Changretta is allowed to escape on a boat to New York. Will there also be consequences for this? I’m sure.
Arthur is making an honest attempt, under the persistent manipulation of Linda, to become a good man. His Quaker wife is trying to get him to emigrate to California to do missionary work and run a general store. What Linda doesn’t understand is that we the viewers need Arthur to stay close to Tommy for entertainment value, and that any California dreaming done at this stage of a story is doomed to failure.
Tommy Shelby spends much of this season getting involved in international intrigue. I don’t mind admitting that most of this story arc, which lasts the entire season, left me confused. I think part of the reason Tommy gets involved with exiled Russian aristocrats is because Winston Churchill has called in the markers he earned by having Tommy spared from execution during the last season. It’s a matter of supporting the non-Communist Russians, I think.
Somehow, an organization headed up by a pedophilic priest, Father Hughes (Paddy Consadine), becomes involved. The organization has the official-sounding name the Economic League. Father Hughes becomes Tommy’s enemy the moment he threatens to harm Tommy’s son Charlie if he goes to see his sister Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle) again, because of her known communist ties. Tommy does get Ada to relative safety by sending her to America to head of Shelby Company concerns there.
It turns out that the priest is double-crossing the Soviets as well. There is a plan to blow up a train and make it look like the Russians committed an act of violence on British soil, which would cut off diplomatic relations.
So, there are a lot of moving pieces to this story machine. A jewel heist that involves tunnel digging. A train job with explosions. It turns out that Father Hughes molested Polly’s son Michael when he was a child, so Michael wants to be the one who kills him. Mama bear Polly threatens to bring the Shelby Company Ltd to its knees if Tommy allows her son to become a murderer. As everything comes to a head, Tommy discovers that his erstwhile ally Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) revealed his plans to Father Hughes. Solomons doesn’t die for his sins because Michael talks him out of it. But, will there be consequences? That seems to be the way things work.
By the way, Michael, who had been intended to be the legitimate face of the business, insulated from their criminal enterprises, emerges from this season as a true Peaky Blinder.
Everything is eventually resolved. Sort of.
During the interim, Aunt Polly has what ultimately seems like a pointless affair to me with artist Reuben Oliver (Alexander Siddig), while he paints her portrait. I say it was pointless, but perhaps the point was to show that Polly couldn’t accept an image of herself as a respectable lady. In many ways, that seems to be the underlying theme with most of our character arcs this season. Besides, we get to see Dr. Bashir from DS9. So, bonus.
The season ends with Tommy calling a family meeting, and then revealing that the police are there to arrest them all at the conclusion of the meeting. And, that’s how the season ends.
Sure, by this point, we know that Thomas Shelby has some sort of grand plan being carried out here. We know that the Shelby family won’t remain behind bars for long. Still, we get the cliffhanger ending. And, of course, there will be consequences.
While I’m still enjoying this series, and looking forward to at least four more seasons, this has been my least-favorite season so far.
Tommy Shelby’s personal tragedy was hard to take, but not unexpected in this sort of family crime drama. The international intrigue seemed a bit broad in scope for this series. While it is likely that I’m the only person confused as to what was going on during most of the season, the fact remains that I was. I felt like the story became bigger than it needed to be. The drama surrounding the feud with the Changrettas and then the whole Father Hughes/Economic League thing would have been enough to carry the day without underground jewel heists and exploding trains. Not to mention the separate Polly arc that went nowhere, as far as I’m concerned.
But, the show still had a lot of what already made me a fan.
Firewater’s If-We-Can-We-Do Report Card: B+
I’m glad Tommy didn’t kill Alfie Solomons, but you have to believe he’s being held in reserve for a bigger comeuppance.