How Peaky Blinders Changed British Period Drama

Peaky Blinders subverts many tropes from British period dramas. In doing so, he may have set a precedent for future entries in the genre.

Peaky Blinders differed from the dramas of the earlier British period and in doing so it changed the genre and showed what was possible in episodic television storytelling. Set in Britain between World War I and World War II, Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) and his family were startlingly different from the ladies in ballgowns audiences expected from a British drama set in that period of history. . Peaky Blinders was the breath of fresh air the genre needed.

First broadcast in 2013, Peaky Blinders followed the rise of an ambitious Birmingham-based gang that shares its name with the series. The Shelby family has amassed wealth and power over six seasons through gambling ventures, car exporting and secret missions for the British government. But no matter how high Peaky BlindersThe Shelby family soared, they maintained their blue-collar, working-class roots. The riverboats, junkyards, factories, flat caps and dirty streets of Small Heath remained integral to both the show and the characters.


Related: Peaky Blinders: What Tommy Shelby’s Chest Tattoo Means

Peaky Blinders challenged the traditional format of British period dramas by mythologizing the British working class rather than targeting high society and the British peerage. Series creator Steven Knight said:I wanted to show that working class characters could have agency and ambition, that they weren’t just subordinates.” (Going through The new statesman) Not only have the working-class characters been moved to the forefront of Knight’s period drama, they have also been glamorized. Peaky Blinders made to be something other than, as Tommy said, “an ordinary worker” not fashionable.

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders

Before Peaky Blinders, the real stories of the working class had been largely ignored in television broadcasts of the British period. If recognized, they were one-dimensional and took on a compassionate tone; there was nothing of the triumph that Peaky Blinders delighted. In Downton Abbeyfor example, working-class characters were secondary to their aristocratic counterparts, and The crown kept the working classes at a deliberate distance. Peaky Blinders didn’t change the drama of the British period simply by focusing on a working-class family, however. Instead, the show flipped expected tropes to make “gypsies” and “horse thieves“the envy of their audience, and”riders” and “tofsworthy of ridicule. Peaky Blinders adhered to the period drama trope of altering a certain class, but in this case it was the upper classes that were altered.

Peaky Blinders fostered an environment where working-class men and women could be heroes. From perfectly tailored suits and severe haircuts, to the constant flow of whiskey and cigarettes, to Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” as Peaky Blinders‘ theme, a distinctive aesthetic was created. Expected images of dirty rags and cartoonish accents were replaced with tweed and soft Brummie baritones. Simply put, Steven Knight’s efforts made working class cool, and his heavy reliance on style allowed him to celebrate untold stories in a way that made audiences want to be a part of it. Because of this, Peaky Blinders has become a cultural phenomenon. Young men copied the characters’ haircuts and flat-headed bachelor parties poured into town centers across Britain.

It is unclear what the long-term impact of Peaky Blinders after season 6 will be. A movie has been confirmed and spinoffs suggested, but little has been discussed beyond its own legacy. Netflix has already capitalized on Peaky Blinders‘ success, with entries like The English game, another show led by working-class characters. As a result, Peaky Blinders created a space within the British period drama genre for working-class people to be the heroes of their own stories.

Next: Peaky Blinders Season 6 Proves Tommy Shelby’s Redemption Has Always Been Impossible

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