Next to BBC’s iconic “Sherlock” and supernatural comedy “Being Human,” one of my favorite British TV shows (or programmes) is “Peaky Blinders.”
The show follows gangsters of the same name who ran Birmingham, England. Right after WWI, war hero Tommy Shelby returns home to assimilate back into regular life. That means “the family business” of horse betting and offering protection to people. The inciting incident occurs when Thomas accidentally comes into a large shipment of guns and ammunition.
As if figuring out what to do with the guns isn’t hard enough, the authorities are looking for Tommy. An Irish police inspector is sent over to come shut everyone down: the gangs, the IRA and the communists who are getting workers riled up.
For extra dramatic effect, there’s a heart-wrenching romance that I could not get enough of when I binge-watched the first series in summer 2015. I have never rooted so hard for a canon straight white couple in a TV show. Ever.
For the past few years, “Peaky Blinders” has quietly consumed my life. If ever you saw me stomping around campus looking generally displeased with the world, it’s probably to do with “Peaky Blinders.” It has made me disgruntled. It has made me mournful. It has made me believe in love and distrust fate. It has ultimately and genuinely made me relate every Drake song to a BBC show.
Ironically enough, I have had a very American revelation about “Peaky Blinders” since I’ve been here in England.
As some of you may know, Netflix availability of films and programmes is not universal. Certain programmes which were non-existent on U.S. Netflix are available here and vice versa. I was peeved to find, for example, “Being Mary Jane” is not on U.K. Netflix.
So when I finished all available episodes of “Grace + Frankie,” I decided to binge “Power” instead of “Being Mary Jane.”
I have to get this off of my chest first: I absolutely adore the title sequence. Yes, it embodies all kinds of heteronormative and capitalist values. Of course, fine. But it is so sumptuously done and I feel as if the black + white aesthetic is used to the full advantage. With the 50 Cent track in the background, it all just feels so thematic. This is also the global cinema class readings coming out in me, but the juxtaposition of the imagery and the recognition of 50 Cent really brings home the NYC setting.
(Fun fact: David Brodeur, the creative behind the title sequence, is based out of St. Petersburg, FL, where I lived this summer.)
Apart from falling in love with the mood of the show, I was very much struck by the links I could draw between “Power” and “Peaky Blinders.”
Where “Peaky Blinders” and “Power” are similar
Just like “Peaky Blinders,” “Power” is about a gang-banger coming up in the world. Like Tommy, Ghost lives on the edge but is trying to get legitimate. Tommy has his horse racing and Ghost has his nightclub. Tommy even ends up getting a bar later in the series.
Family is crucial to both men. Ghost has his wife and kids, and Tommy has his brothers, his sisters and Aunt Polly. It’s their pride and joy. It’s also their greatest weakness.
Tommy’s right hand man, his brother Arthur, suffers from anger issues. Ghost’s right hand man Tommy, who he loves like a brother, also suffers from anger issues. Arthur’s are likely a symptom of post-WWI PTSD. Tommy, as it is put, “loves the streets too much.”
Both Jamie and Tommy are men who keep their cards close to their chest, but are well-liked by most everyone (who doesn’t have a price on their heads).
And of course, both men are in love. Both Tommy and Ghost fall in love with a cop. But not just any forbidden femme fatale. Tommy and Ghost both fall in love with the cop specifically assigned to put them behind bars.
The plot points and themes are so similar that I wonder if anyone has clocked it before. That being said, I gather the shows have very different demographics. You know, one has 50 Cent singing its theme song and the other is on BBC.
Where “Peaky Blinders” and “Power” are different
There are slight divergences between the shows. For example, Grace knows its Tommy she’s after and Angela doesn’t know Ghost is the one she wants. Ghost knew Angela before and Grace is a beautiful, too-innocent-looking stranger who must be lost if she’s at Tommy’s local pub.
The marginalized groups comprising the gangs are also quite different. In New York City, we watch Puerto Rican, Mexican, African-American, Jamaican and (I believe) some Afro-Latinx folks navigate the sticky world of organized crime. In England, we watch Irish, Jewish, Roma, Italian and English gangsters scrap for power. In both cases, there is a lot of poverty, aspiration and unrest to exploit.
Now what, now that I’ve been deeply mulling over the shows’ similarities for the past week? I’m going to continue watching “Power.”
With music, for example, you can either be mad that a new band or new rapper sounds just like your fave. Or you can add them to your Spotify library and keep it moving. I am choosing to keep it moving. I have decided that I don’t care who came first or what are the odds one show bit off of another.
I am just happy to have stumbled upon more gangsters-in-love and Family Drama™ content to hold me over until we get a fresh season of “Peaky Blinders.”
What the hell is a “Peaky Blinder,” you might ask? In a very literal sense, it’s the name of the hats worn by the gangsters. One story has it that gang members sewed razor blades into caps called “peakys,” which proved to be a convenient way to blind those who stepped to them.
There’s also a theory that head-butting someone in the nose with the cap’s hard peak would temporarily blind them. The BBC show chooses to depict the more exciting etymology of the term.
Also, I live in the Clerkenwell / Islington / Holborn area. It’s where Charles “Darby” Sabini, one of the gangsters depicted in “Peaky Blinders,” used to work and presumably live. (Holborn, in particular, has a reputation for being London’s Little Italy.)
Best believe I was shook when I found out.