As a title, This Town leaves something to be desired. Especially since the new BBC drama is from the creator of Peaky Blinders, a name that in two words conveys all the intrigue and idiosyncrasy that these other two lack.

From the man who gave us sharply dressed TV gangsters, we now have broody Brummie rockstar wannabes. The two may seem like oil and water, but for Peaky fans, there are familiar elements in This Town.

The town in question is once again Birmingham, as well as Coventry. The new BBC drama was shot on location, as part of Steven Knight’s career ambition to show the beauty and often ignored reality of his Midlands home.

Set in 1981 on two council estates, the story is stuffed. There are Brummie gangsters, riots, the IRA, the police and military fighting them, lovelorn teens and music-obsessed hopefuls looking for a way out of all of this.

Our sensitive-soul protagonist is romantically named Dante, and played by Levi Brown. We meet him inadvertently stumbling into the fray of a police and protestor stand-off, too consumed with thoughts of heartbreak to notice the violence until he’s already in the thick of it. He just wants to be a poet. And have tea with that girl who broke his heart.

He moves through the beautifully shot world of Birmingham in a dreamlike way that can be sometimes annoying and other times endearing. When he says things like he didn’t turn up for Birmingham City football trials because he “saw a nice tree and decided to climb it” it’s the former, but when he steals a genuine spacesuit to keep it from disappearing into the Brummie black market, it’s the latter.

Once he realises the poetry he’s drafting in his head – communicated to us via rather twee voiceover – can be set to the melodies written by his friend Jeannie Keefe (Eve Austin) and sung by his Alex Turner-lookalike cousin Bardon Quinn (Ben Rose), then we have the makings of a band – and the route all of them need out of the status quo.

The young hopefuls are up against their browbeaten elders, who are largely consumed with the social unrest of the time. For Peaky fans there’s a deep-ish cut in the casting of Dante’s older brother Gregory, played by Jordan Bolger, who was the first incarnation of Isaiah Jesus.

There’s also Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery breaking bad as Bardon’s troubled mother Estella, who we’re told “rides her addictions madly through the streets of Coventry like Lady Godiva”. Dockery has a lovely voice. When she first breaks out into song, in albeit agonising circumstances, it gives you goosebumps.

Naming no names, but despite casting directors’ efforts to cast a northern bunch for its ensemble, some of the Brummie accents are peculiarly wandering. Those acquainted with the world of Peaky Blinders likely won’t bat an eyelid at this – it’s an accent Birmingham-born Knight has said is “harder even than Geordie” to get right.

The music is a real highlight here. The soundtrack is stuffed with classics: The Clash, Desmond Dekker, Byron Lee and The Dragonaires, Leonard Cohen, Blondie, Velvet Underground, the list goes on. Goodness knows what slice of the budget went into licensing. There are also fresh covers by modern artists as well as a string of original tracks for our brand-spanking-new band, written by Dan Carey, Kae Tempest and ESKA.

As with last year’s Fleetwood Mac-inspired Daisy Jones and the Six, sinking production energy into the sound pays off. These shows live and die on whether the music is believable and good. Otherwise it’s like watching a sports film where the camera cuts away just as the lumbering actor playing the star striker scores the winning goal.

Brown and Rose have said they pitched up at local open mic nights to flex their vocal cords during filming. The result is captivating, when we do eventually get to the band’s formation in the six episode run. Knight has stressed there is no real-life band inspiration here, but also thinks his This Town actors could form a real group.

This Town possibly attempts too much. Those here for the music may find their attention start to wander as we get bogged down in the social tensions, while others here for Knight’s signature sprawling soap opera of criminality may not have the same stomach for characters spontaneously breaking into song. Still, there will be a sweet spot who enjoy both.


By Ivaylo Angelov

Ivaylo Angelov born in Bulgaria, Varna graduated School Geo Milev is Tvserieswelove's Soaps Editor and oversees all of the section's news, features, spoilers and interviews.