Peaky Blinders recap: series six finale – a thrilling and electrifying signature | Television & radio

The gangster saga unfolded in a blaze of Brummie glory and with more twists and turns than Spaghetti Junction. Here’s your post-mortem on the feature film finale, Lock & Key…

Polly’s prophecy has come true

“One of you is going to die. What I can’t say. This barrel episode began with avenger Michael Gray (Finn Cole) finally breaking out of prison, where he was simmering all the way through after being set up by Tommy (Cillian Murphy). His intentions to kill his cousin had been declared in all series. Now mustachioed Mikey (don’t call him that) has put his plan into action.

Tommy flew (how new) to the smugglers’ paradise of the island of Miquelon to collect the $5 million payment for his opium shipment. Michael planted a booby-trapped briefcase in his car. Well, his mother, Polly, (flashbacks of the mighty Helen McCrory) foresaw that Tommy wouldn’t be shot and killed. When Michael made his excuses to leave the engine, there was a kaboom that shattered the window. Except it was the car behind, full of Boston gangsters, that blew up.

Cue the cheers from the couches as good old Johnny Dogs (Packy Lee) pops up to tell Tommy, “I changed the ticker like you said, Tom.” Always one step ahead. Shot in the eye for his problem, Michael went to meet his creator and his mother.

Long-suffering Lizzie is gone

“You’re cursed, Tommy,” cried his wife Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe). With their daughter Ruby dead, there’s an argument that Tommy no longer needed her. Young Charles, remember, is the son of Tommy’s late first wife, Grace. He had become more and more distant, not even telling her about his terminal tumor. The straw that broke the camel’s back was sleeping with the enemy, Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson).

Still, it was heartbreaking when Lizzie took off her rings, packed her bags and walked out. Charles (Billy Jenkins) chose to accompany her, emphasizing “you are more my mother than he is my father”. Phew. “Take care of your mother and tell her I’m sorry,” Tommy said. You deserve better, Lizzie.

Always outnumbered, never outnumbered

Welcome back, Arthur.  We missed you …
Welcome back, Arthur. We missed you … Photography: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.

After a series on the outskirts and on heroin, big brother Arthur (Paul Anderson) has cleaned up, helped by the return of his wife Linda (Kate Phillips). After a touching scene of heartbroken brotherly love with Tommy, he had work to do. The South Boston mob sent the IRA to assassinate him at the garrison. But they were expected. Charlie Strong (Ned Dennehy) acted as a decoy, luring Laura “Captain Swing” McKee (Charlene McKenna) and her soldiers into a trap.

In a slow-burning shootout reminiscent of the battleship Potemkin’s Odessa Steps sequence, complete with a crying baby, the IRA trio played cat and mouse with Arthur, Charlie and Jeremiah Jesus (Benjamin Zephaniah). The coup de grace was “an old memory of Passchendaele”. The Peakys released mustard gas into the mist-covered alley and emerged wearing gas masks to take down their opponents.

Arthur gave McKee a sip of filtered air to make sure she was conscious when he picked up Aunt Polly’s revenge. “Vengeance is for the Lord,” she gasped, to which he replied, “Not in Small Heath, it’s not. Rest in peace, Poll. Welcome back, Arthur. You have us.” lack.

It’s always the quietest

A good Peaky now… Conrad Khan as Duke.
A good Peaky now… Conrad Khan as Duke. Photography: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.

“Can you keep a secret?” Charlie asked about Tommy’s illegitimate son, Erasmus “Duke” Shelby (Conrad Khan). The fact that he was showing the young male around the gang’s well-stocked armory gave a hint of what was to come.

Too many bad memories and a desire to burn off his ill-gotten gains meant that Tommy wanted his Arrow House campaign pile gutted, razed and replaced with public housing. He dispatched a team led by Isiah Jesus (Daryl McCormack) to empty the dry wine cellar, dig up the bodies buried in the ground and send them to “Mr Patches to put in the oven” (that invisible character is surely a spin -off show waiting to happen).

By candlelight, the “gardeners” have arrived. Except Tommy had deduced that Billy Grade (Emmett J Scanlan) was the “black cat” traitor and that younger brother Finn (Harry Kirton) was equally untrustworthy. No wonder he was dismissed. Duke executed Billy and banished Finn from the family. A quarrel for the future. We last saw Duke, now with a proper Peaky haircut, having instructions whispered in his ear by Tommy.

Cult heroes appeared

As a frontman introducing the band, writer Steven Knight ensured that this legacy tour gave the much-loved characters their moment in the spotlight. Not only “Uncle” Charlie got good. Just like Johnny Dogs and Isiah.

Fan favorite Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) arrived for one last scenery-chewing moment, announcing himself with “I smell the Irish roasting.” It turned out to be the mumbling Jewish gangster who was the only hotel guest on the island of Miquelon. In return for Tommy selling his opium to the Solomon gang and giving them Boston supremacy, Alfie ceded Camden Town to Tommy.

Dear and reliable Curly (Ian Peck) proved his worth once again and received a hug of gratitude from Tommy. Arthur toasted the late brother John (Joe Cole). Even housekeeper Frances (Pauline Turner) got a seat at the table. The whole gang is there.

Dishonorable good members

Good riddance... Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson).
Good riddance… Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson). Photography: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.

MP Thomas Shelby’s last appearance in the Commons was not what you would call conventional. He met Mitford on the famous green leatherette seats, asking for support for his housing bill – while describing his influence on a cleverly folded paper airplane.

Mitford “wanted to fuck right here on these benches”, but staunch socialist Tommy refused to switch to the Conservative side, insisting that she cross the floor. Order, order. Mitford’s fiancé, Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin), cut him off just in time, handing Tommy an invitation to the couple’s wedding in Berlin – at which the Führer himself would be present. Fortunately, Tommy had business in Newfoundland. Good riddance, macabre duo.

Beware of me, I’m a doctor

As Nick Cave sings, “He’s a god, he’s a man, he’s a ghost.” In many ways, as Tommy admitted to Arthur, they never came back from the Great War. The siblings are dead men walking for 15 years. Would Tommy’s brain tumor succeed where his human enemies had failed? Of course not. First there is a feature film to be made. So how was our anti-hero going to cheat death this time?

Tommy flew off to die in a gypsy wagon, held a gun to his head (again) – and had a magical vision of his dead daughter Ruby (Orla McDonagh) telling him, ‘You’re not even sick. You have to live, dad. Rekindling his campfire, Tommy spotted a picture of Mosley’s wedding in a charred newspaper – and a familiar face among the guests: doctor Dr Holford (Aneurin Barnard), alongside the colleague he had recommended for a second opinion. After all, Tommy didn’t have an inoperable tuberculoma. The fatal diagnosis was a fascist ruse. Articulated, certainly. It didn’t explain the seizures either. But shivering all the same.

As the clock struck 11 for armistice time, Tommy spared Holford’s life. “Peace at last,” he whispered. His trailer was set on fire by Holford’s valet. He would be presumed dead and could make a fresh start. He left towards sunset a free man – “where we began: horses and caravans, wanderers and thieves”. See you on the big screen, Tom.

Good things come to those who wait

At least Tommy handed him the reins... Ada Shelby (Sophie Rundle).
At least Tommy handed him the reins… Ada Shelby (Sophie Rundle). Photography: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.

Many reviewers have expressed frustration with the meandering rhythm of this swansong series. I cut some slack on him for having to work around both the pandemic and the tragic loss of McCrory, keeping faith that everything would come to fruition. For me, it definitely is. It was a thrilling and electrifying way to sign off.

Of course, he didn’t tick all the boxes. Several major characters were underused in this series, including Arthur, Alfie, and Ada, his stand-in position as side boss. At least Tommy handed him the reins. There was no sign of Winston Churchill or Liverpool Docks union chairman Hayden Stagg, meaning Stephen Graham’s role was limited to just two scenes. There was also no reward for fascist Boston boss Jack Nelson (James Frecheville) – although we can assume the Jewish mob will pay for it.

Still, any fears that Peaky Blinders could “do a Game of Thrones” were put to rest with a satisfying propelling parting shot. In 81 minutes, we were promised a mini-movie, a tryout for the upcoming feature, and that’s what we got. It was part western, part gangster epic, and so tense I barely breathed for the first hour.

Hard to believe it’s been nine years since Tommy first cut Watery Lane. He ended up where he started, riding alone. Tommy had “traveled from the back streets to the corridors of power”. Now we Peaky Blinders rest. Me? I will watch the fog.

line of the week

Spoiled for choice in an episode filled with one-liners, including plenty of Alfie. But in the face of fierce competition, we feasted on this mother warning her daughter: “If you get lost in the fog, the Peaky Blinders will get you. Brum’s ultimate bogeymen.

Spotting anachronistic soundtracks

We started with Mozart’s Lacrimosa and moved on to Lisa O’Neill’s cover of Bob Dylan’s All The Tired Horses. In between, the musical highlight was the first track from Radiohead’s side project, the new Pana-vision single from The Smile, the soundtrack to Tommy’s near-suicide. It’s just a little surprise that we didn’t bow out with a blast from Red Right Hand. There is definitely a storm brewing…

Notes and Observations

  • Tommy started the first series on a black steed. He finished series six on a blank. Symbolic.

  • “The BSA Factory on Armory Road” is indeed a Small Heath landmark.

  • Sleaford Mods frontman Jason Williamson was perfect as the vociferous preacher Lazarus.

  • Kudos to director Anthony Byrne who heroically helmed the show’s final 12 episodes under trying circumstances. It ended on a humdinger, full of operatic crescendo and beautiful cinematography.

  • Let’s raise one last whiskey to Sarah Hughes, a much-loved former keeper of this blog. His posthumous memoir, Holding Tight, Letting Go, was published last week. Wondering what Lady Sarah would have thought of this finale?

Thank you for your wise and witty company this series, soldiers. Once again, by order of the Peaky Blinders and Birmingham Urban District Council, please share your thoughts below…

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