Peaky Blinders Blew the Budget on Its Opening Shot (& It Was Worth It)

10 years ago today, Peaky Blinders arrived on BBC Two with a killer introduction to Tommy Shelby and a fierce, expensive mission statement.

Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders series 6
Photo: Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.,Robert Viglasky

Peaky Blinders was conjured out of stories its creator Steven Knight was told as a child. Larger-than-life images from his parents’ Birmingham families had been burnt onto his nine-year-old mind. A mountain of silver coins piled on a table in a shabby terraced house. Bare-knuckle boxers bound at the wrists and pushed into the canal for losing a fight. Gypsy horse fairs. Barefoot children running messages for illegal bookmakers. A pub called The Chain whose only drinkers were factory women who’d beat any man who dared enter. And immaculately dressed gang members who’d swapped the mud of their WWI uniforms for crisp creases and sharp tailoring. It was all magic and glamour, to the mind of a child. 

That was how Peaky Blinders chose to present the past on screen – as somewhere heightened, glamorous and now. It wanted to evoke in its viewer the awe of a kid marvelling at unforgettable things. Forget the drudgery of realism, the show’s 1920s Birmingham would be a place where fairy tale kings and queens walked through fiery streets, towered over by pulsating industry and non-stop newness. For once on screen, the British working classes wouldn’t be drab and pitiful, they’d be mythic and cool. As Knight told Den of Geek, “let’s do legends.” 

One detail from Knight’s childhood legends, as reported in GQ Magazine, was his father’s memory of seeing the real Peaky Blinders gang dressed to the nines. “Every crease as sharp as the razors in their hats, reflections in their toe caps, dicky bows and ties pulled tight on studded collars.”

Everything about the men projected wealth and status, Knight’s dad told him… apart from the glasses from which they were drinking. These expensively dressed gangsters were knocking back whiskey not from pricey crystal, but recycled jam jars. Knight explains: “The money was in the fibre and the leather of their clothes, in their grooming and their guns. Not a penny of that fortune would be spent on anything so mundane as kitchenware.”


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