Peaky Blinders 3.6 Review: The Series Clarifies Its Focus — It’s About Masculinity

Yes, there are spoilers.

Knight says he originally conceptualized Peaky Blinders as something like a Western, from its visuals (there’s plenty of gunslinging and getaways on horseback) to the way it probes what he calls an “impossible masculinity. [But] what I wanted to do was mythologize the rest of us.  You know:  the working class.”

Steven Knight in Rolling Stone

Tommy Shelby on horseback, Peaky Blinders, Series 1
Peaky Blinders, Series 1

I’m one of those Peaky Blinders fans who’s unhappy with the turn Series 3 took — and by that, I mean Grace’s death.  As I’ve blogged elsewhere, I fault Steven Knight for leading us on and not being clear that Grace had well and truly died.  But after accepting that change, I began rewatching.  Peaky Blinders deserved to have me watch it based on its own rules, not my expectations.  And I also found the quote cited above.  I’m most interested in Knight’s statement that he wants to explore an “impossible masculinity.”  If that’s the case — and it obviously is — then the point of Peaky Blinders become much clearer.

Tommy Shelby on horseback, Peaky Blinders Series 1
Peaky Blinders, Series 2

Knight has said since the beginning that in Peaky Blinders, he is much influenced by the western.  The visuals from Series 1 repeatedly illustrate this.   If there’s anything that defines the western besides landscape and horses, it’s the assertions it makes about masculinity.  The male hero is self-sufficient, cunning, honorable, skilled, an excellent horseman, and, above all, a man above other men.  The western revolves around definitions of masculinity.  That’s why Sharon Stone’s The Quick and the Dead is such an important film:  because it displaces the male gunfighter and arrives at a different resolution from traditional westerns.

But that’s getting away from Peaky Blinders.  If the focus is, in fact, exploring masculinity — and I take Knight at his word that it is — then Grace and all the other female characters serve only one role, and that is to allow Tommy (even more than the other male characters) to explore his masculinity.

Grace helps Tommy recover from his PTSD and learn to love again; she has his son; and then, after a lovely wedding, she is killed rather than her husband.  After all, her usefulness is over.  We’ve moved on to the next stage of exploring masculinity, which is seeing how Tommy grieves and lives without her.

Series 2, especially its cliffhanger ending, as well as the who-will-be-the-bride? secret of Series 3 left viewers believing that Grace had equal standing in Peaky Blinders.  It seemed that Tommy and Grace’s relationship was a focus of the show, and we were about to see Tommy explore his masculinity in terms of marriage.  That was wrong.  Her character had no value apart from her relationship with Tommy even though she had carried a gun and was a spy in Series 1.  Ultimately, Grace’s real job was to be a source for Tommy’s “man pain.”  Given this turn of events, we are squarely in western territory —  The Outlaw Josey Wales provides an obvious comparison.

Let me be clear:  I really love Peaky Blinders, but Series 3 has forced me to reconsider key elements.  As I’ve written elsewhere, we do not yet know if Grace’s fate was a writing choice or Annabelle Wallis wanting out of her contract.  Knight’s remarks in Rolling Stone suggest the former.  But moving into Series 4 and 5, viewers will have to rethink their expectations.

Publication Date:  4 June 2016

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