For all of the praise that Peaky Blinders season 6 has received from critics and viewers alike, there has been some criticism that the drama’s final TV outing is too slow and lacking the bombast that initially drew people in when it first aired in 2013 – and kept them coming back.
The latest chapter has, on the whole, been a much quieter affair, as Arthur Shelby’s interaction with Stephen Graham’s Hayden Stagg in episode 3 emphasised.
The razor blade-stuffed flat caps have had little to do so far, with brawls largely taking a backseat as Tommy takes measures to ensure that this time, he does succeed in destroying Mosley and his movement.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com, director Anthony Byrne, who worked on both seasons 5 and 6, diplomatically said that while he has “no problem” with that criticism, “you can’t continue to give people what they’re expecting” – and be warned, there are full spoilers ahead for the season so far.
He added: “You’re taking a show like Peaky that is culturally relevant, it’s a TV phenomenon, and there’s an expectation of, ‘I want Arthur kicking the s**t out of people and I want Tommy being Tommy and more Peaky stuff.’
“Season 4 was that. Season 4 was a gangster season with the Italians and the Peakys. There was a lot of gangster stuff and guns and all of that. And then season 5 was about the rise of fascism and it was darker.
“Season 6 is a character piece about the darkness of Tommy Shelby’s soul and it’s how far down is he going to have to go before he can get out. And will there be any left of him? That’s what it is for me. And audiences who love the character will go with it because they’re on a journey with this guy, with Tommy Shelby.
“There’s always going to be an element of people who want just the same stuff, but we’re not in it for that because it has to evolve, and it has to change. And it has to challenge the audience’s expectations and take you on a far deeper experience than you’re expecting to go.”
“And then there are the obvious issues of grief and mourning that are permeating the season,” noted Byrne. “With particular regard to the death of Polly and the death of Helen McCrory. But then the death of Ruby, which was always in the script, so it’s a double whammy.”
But even if creator Steven Knight had chosen not to burden the Shelby family with Ruby’s death, McCrory’s absence was always going to be felt heavily throughout. Peaky Blinders is now operating in a post-Polly era and it would have been remiss – and impossible – not to reflect that tonally.
While season 6 isn’t the high-octane, blood-soaked sprint to the finish that many would have hoped for, and possibly expected, it does track with where the Shelby patriarch and his inner circle would be both emotionally and physically.
He’s been knocked down more times than most, but while he has previously managed to rise again, even the notorious Tommy F**king Shelby has his limit – and we’re fast approaching that as the drama draws to a close.