Wednesday, February 21

Peaky Blinders recap: series six finale – a thrumming, electrifying signoff

The gangster saga went out in a blaze of Brummie glory and with more twists than Spaghetti Junction. Here’s your postmortem on the feature-length finale, Lock & Key …

Polly’s prophesy came to pass

“One of you will die. Which I cannot tell.” This barrelling episode began with vengeful Michael Gray (Finn Cole) finally getting out of jail, where he’d been simmering all series after being set up by Tommy (Cillian Murphy). His intentions to kill his cousin had been stated all series. Now moustachioed Mikey (don’t call him that) put his plan into action.

Tommy flew (how new-fangled) to the smugglers’ haven of Miquelon Island to collect the $5m payment for his opium shipment. Michael placed a briefcase bomb in his car. Well, his mother, Polly, (flashbacks of the mighty Helen McCrory) foresaw that Tommy wouldn’t be killed by a bullet. When Michael made his excuses to leave the motor, there was a window-shattering kaboom. Except it was the car behind, full of Boston mobsters, which blew to smithereens.

Cue cheers from sofas as good ole Johnny Dogs (Packy Lee) popped up to tell Tommy: “I switched the ticker like you said, Tom.” Always one step ahead. Getting a bullet through the eye for his trouble, Michael went to meet his maker and his mother.

Longsuffering Lizzie left

“You are cursed, Tommy,” wept his wife Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe). With their daughter Ruby dead, there’s an argument to say that Tommy didn’t need her any more. Young Charles, remember, is the son of Tommy’s late first wife Grace. He’d grown increasingly distant, not even telling her about his terminal tumour. The final straw was sleeping with the enemy, Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson).

Yet it was heartbreaking when Lizzie removed her rings, packed her bags and walked out. Charles (Billy Jenkins) opted to go with her, pointing out “you’re more my mum than he is my dad”. Oof. “Look after your mother and tell her I’m sorry,” said Tommy. You deserve better, Lizzie.

Always outnumbered, never outgunned

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

After a series on the periphery and on heroin, big brother Arthur (Paul Anderson) got clean, aided by the return of his wife Linda (Kate Phillips). After a touching scene of brokenhearted brotherly love with Tommy, he had work to do. The South Boston mob dispatched 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 slowburn shootout reminiscent of Battleship Potemkin’s Odessa Steps sequence, complete with crying baby, the IRA trio played cat-and-mouse with Arthur, Charlie and Jeremiah Jesus (Benjamin Zephaniah). The coup de grâce was “an old keepsake from Passchendaele”. The Peakys released mustard gas into the mist-shrouded alley and emerged in gas masks to gun down their opponents.

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Arthur gave McKee a gulp of filtered air to ensure she was conscious when he extracted payback for Aunt Polly. “Vengeance is for the Lord,” she gasped, to which he replied: “Not in Small Heath it ain’t. Rest in peace, Poll.” Welcome back, Arthur. We’ve missed you.

It’s always the quiet ones

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

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

Too many bad memories and a desire to burn down his ill-gotten gains meant Tommy wanted his country pile Arrow House emptied, razed to the ground and replaced by social housing. He dispatched a crew led by Isiah Jesus (Daryl McCormack) to drink the wine cellar dry, dig up the bodies buried in the grounds and send them to “Mr Patches to put in the furnace” (this unseen figure is surely a spin-off show waiting to happen).

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

Cult heroes came to the fore

Like a frontman introducing the band, writer Steven Knight ensured this legacy tour gave much-loved characters their moment in the spotlight. Not only did “Uncle” Charlie come good. So did Johnny Dogs and Isiah.

Fan favourite Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) arrived for one last spot of scenery-chewing, announcing himself with “I smell the smell of roasting Irishmen”. It turned out to be the mumbling Jewish mobster who was the only hotel guest on Miquelon Island. In return for Tommy selling his opium to the Solomons gang and giving them Boston supremacy, Alfie signed over Camden Town to Tommy.

Dear, dependable Curly (Ian Peck) proved his worth once more and got a Tommy cuddle of gratitude. Arthur raised a toast to late brother John (Joe Cole). Even housekeeper Frances (Pauline Turner) got a seat at the table. The gang’s all here.

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Right dishonourable members

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

Thomas Shelby MP’s final appearance in the Commons wasn’t what you’d call conventional. He met Mitford on the famous green leatherette seats, requesting support for his housing bill – while outlining his leverage on an artfully folded paper plane.

Mitford “wanted to fuck here, on these benches” but staunch socialist Tommy refused to go over to the Tory side, insisting she cross the floor. Order, order. Mitford’s fiancé Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin) interrupted in the nick of time, handing Tommy an invitation to the couple’s wedding in Berlin – at which the Führer himself would be in attendance. Luckily Tommy had business in Newfoundland. Good riddance, gruesome twosome.

Mistrust me, I’m a doctor

Like 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 have been dead men walking for 15 years. Was Tommy’s brain tumour going to succeed where his human foes failed? Of course not. There’s a feature film to make first. So how was our antihero going to cheat death this time?

Tommy took himself off to die in a Gypsy wagon, held a revolver to his head (again) – and had a magical vision of deceased daughter Ruby (Orla McDonagh) telling him: “You’re not even sick. You’ve must live, daddy.” Relighting his campfire, Tommy spotted a picture of Mosley’s wedding in a charred newspaper – and a familiar face among the guests: physician Dr Holford (Aneurin Barnard), alongside the female colleague he’d recommended for a second opinion. Tommy didn’t have inoperable tuberculoma after all. The deadly diagnosis was a fascist ruse. Contrived, certainly. Neither did it explain the seizures. But spine-tingling all the same.

As the clock struck 11 for Armistice hour, Tommy spared Holford’s life. “Peace at last,” he murmured. His caravan was set ablaze by Holford’s manservant. He’d be assumed dead and could make a fresh start. He rode off into the sunset a free man – “back where we began: horses and caravans, vagabonds and thieves”. See you on the silver screen, Tom.

Good things come to those who wait

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

Many commenters have expressed frustration with the meandering pace of this swansong series. I’ve cut it some slack for having to work around both the pandemic and the tragic loss of McCrory, keeping faith that all would come to fruition. For me, it definitely did. This was a thrumming, electrifying way to sign off.

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Sure, it didn’t tick every box. Several major characters were under-utilised this series, notably Arthur, Alfie and Ada, her stand-in stint as boss aside. At least Tommy handed her the reins. There was no sign of Winston Churchill or Liverpool Docks union convener Hayden Stagg, meaning Stephen Graham’s role was limited to just two scenes. Neither was there any comeuppance for fascist Boston boss Jack Nelson (James Frecheville) – although we can assume the Jewish mob will put paid to him.

Yet any fears that Peaky Blinders might “do a Game of Thrones” were put to bed by a satisfyingly propulsive parting shot. Clocking in at 81 minutes, we’d been promised a mini-movie, a dry run for the forthcoming feature, and that’s what we got. This was part western, part gangster epic and so tense, I barely drew breath for the first hour.

Hard to believe it’s nine years since Tommy first clip-clopped down Watery Lane. He ended where he began, alone on horseback. Tommy had “been on a journey from the backstreets to the corridors of power”. Now we Peaky Blinders rest. Me? I’m off to look at the fog.

Line of the week

Spoilt for choice in an episode replete with one-liners, many of them from Alfie. But in the face of stiff competition, we enjoyed that mother warning her daughter: “If you get lost in the fog, the Peaky Blinders will get you.” The ultimate Brum bogeymen.

Anachronistic soundtrack-spotting

We opened with Mozart’s Lacrimosa and left on Lisa O’Neill’s cover of Bob Dylan’s All The Tired Horses. In between, the musical highlight was the debut play of Radiohead side project The Smile’s new single Pana-vision, soundtracking Tommy’s near-suicide. It’s just a slight surprise we didn’t bow out with a blast of Red Right Hand. There’s a gathering storm alright …

Notes and observations

  • Tommy started series one on a black steed. He ended series six on a white one. Symbolic.

  • “The BSA factory on Armoury Road” is indeed a Small Heath landmark.

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

  • Bravo to director Anthony Byrne who heroically helmed the show’s last 12 episodes under testing circumstances. He ended on a humdinger, full of operatic crescendoes and handsome cinematography.

  • Let’s raise one last whiskey to Sarah Hughes, much-loved previous custodian of this blog. Her posthumous memoir, Holding Tight, Letting Go, was published last week. Wonder what Lady Sarah would have made of this finale?

Thanks for your wise and witty company this series, soldiers. One more time, by order of both the Peaky Blinders and Birmingham Urban District Council, please share your thoughts below …

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