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Peaky Blinders series three finale recap – a brilliant, bittersweet nail-biter

The Guardian logo The Guardian 09/06/2016 Sarah Hughes

A superbly tense standoff … Alfie confronts Tommy. © BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect A superbly tense standoff … Alfie confronts Tommy.

One thing this series has always been very good at is a finale. This week’s nail-biter was no exception, as Tommy raced against time to save his kidnapped son, facing his tunnellingdemons and revealing the entertaining truth about the great jewel robbery in the process. But the most powerful moment came at the very end, as a physically and emotionally battered Mr Shelby summoned his family and went full Corleone on them, dashing money across the table, reminding everyone that if they take “the King’s shilling” then they’ve agreed to kill, before dropping the bombshell that they were all about to be arrested, but that he’d managed to strike a deal …

It was a bittersweet, brilliant ending to what has been an occasionally patchy series, and one that made it clear that the constant sense of the Shelbys having jumped too far too fast was deliberate. Tommy over-extended himself: he believed that having the big house, the perfect wife, the adored child meant he was untouchable, and that his countryside folly meant he could take on the big boys. He was wrong.

Our heroes

A superbly tense standoff … Alfie confronts Tommy. © BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect/Robert ViglaskyPhotographer: Robert A superbly tense standoff … Alfie confronts Tommy.

This has always been a show drenched in sin, guilt and redemption, and this episode was heavy in all three. Throughout this series, Steven Knight has consistently hinted that there is a price to pay for behaving as the Peaky Blinders do. That was hammered home tonight, both during the superbly tense confrontation with Alfie – “How many sons have you cut, killed, murdered, butchered, both innocent and guilty to send them straight to hell?” – and in the final scene in which Tommy was as much priest as gang boss, reminding his family of all their sins and asking for absolution even as the police poured through the door.

The Shelby family, just before Tommy goes postal. © Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect The Shelby family, just before Tommy goes postal.

Given how obsessed this season has been with family, it was perfect to end with the Shelbys being pulled apart. Family all but destroyed Tommy (Grace and Charles were very much his weak spots, understandably so) yet it also got him through: John and Arthur bore his worst crimes, Michael saved his life and killed the priest, Ada “came back for love”.

For all that, Tommy’s final bitter vision of the Peaky Blinders as a ruthless criminal enterprise, perfect players in Alfie Solomons’ wicked world, felt bleakly true. Yet there was hope: like Lizzie, Esme and Ada, I too would be very interested to hear Polly’s plan for the future of the gang.

The bad guys

  The best reveal of the night … Tommy gives the jewels to Tatiana. © Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect The best reveal of the night … Tommy gives the jewels to Tatiana.

The greatest reveal of the night was that Tatiana hired Tommy to do the robbery. As to why – the suggestion seemed to be that Grand Duchess Izabella was stepmother rather than mother, that the jewels basically belonged to her anyway, that she didn’t want her useless father and his impassive wife spunking them on a pointless revolution when she could take them and waltz off to a new life in Vienna where “a man is waiting for me”. “Poor man,” replied Tommy dourly. I can only agree.

The evening was far less kind to our other main villain: Father Hughes died choking on his own blood after fatally underestimating nascent psychopath Michael. Paddy Considine has been great in this role, sleazy and unnerving at every turn, and it’s almost a shame we had to see him go (I did say almost). As for the rest of the mysterious “Oddfellows”, they lived to fight another day, ending the evening in the ascendant with most of the Shelbys arrested. That’s the trouble with shadowy figures of establishment corruption: they’re notoriously hard to bring down.

Additional notes

And the cruellest moment of the night … poor broken Polly. © Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect And the cruellest moment of the night … poor broken Polly.

• The cruellest moment of the night was Tommy’s rebuttal of Polly: “He pursued you, sought you out – why would an educated man of his standing do something like that?” True, it was said in desperation but it was also gratuitously nasty … and, as it turned out, gloriously wrong.

• “There were things in that treasury that God himself, he spoke to me and said ‘Alfie you were meant to have these things.’” Tom Hardy has so much fun with this role that it’s impossible not to go along with the performance, baroque as it is.

• The moment before Arthur and John blew up the train was one of the best of the entire series. It was subtle and very affecting, from Arthur’s turmoil to John’s quiet “I’ll do it.” This series has really fleshed out their relationship well.

• It’s pretty much Michael’s fault the train got blown up. If he hadn’t been so intent on pulling the trigger on Hughes, word would have reached Finn in time. Bad Michael.

• Also bad – the way he callously abandoned the poor motor heiress to her abortion. I have a feeling that will come back to bite him.

• The line about Lizzie stopping Tommy’s heart from breaking was interesting. I find their relationship believable. It’s not healthy, it’s horribly unequal and it couldn’t work long-term but it makes sense. They fall back on each other when times are bad.

• Poor Linda and her shattered Californian dreams. I wonder if she’ll head for America’s promised land anyway?

• “I’m going back to Birmingham to buy a racehorse and have it trained” – and suddenly, the ears of all the May Carleton fans in the audience pricked up …

• I was amused that the Women’s Institute were smart enough to get Tommy a horse statue. Forget sex and Siberian kisses: that’s the real way to his heart.

  What a performance … a special shout-out to Paul Anderson’s guilt-ridden Arthur Shelby. © Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd/Tiger Aspect What a performance … a special shout-out to Paul Anderson’s guilt-ridden Arthur Shelby.

• The acting was fantastic again this episode. Special shout-outs to Paul Anderson’s guilt-ridden Arthur, Helen McCrory’s broken Polly, Finn Cole’s terrifying Michael and, of course, Cillian Murphy, who was outstanding once again.

• The whole thing was also beautifully directed by Tim Mielants. Even when this craziest of shows is at its most insane, it always looks glorious.

• Finally, if I have one real complaint about a season I’ve largely enjoyed, it’s that they did a disservice to Grace by writing her into a lady of the manor hole then summarily killing her off to give Tommy further motivation. I may not have been particularly fond of the character or actress, but it was still poorly done.

Anachronistic yet strangely right song of the week

I’m not the biggest Radiohead fan but the use of Life in a Glass House as Tommy looked round his now empty folly was brilliant.

Quote of the week

“I’ve learnt something in the last few days: those bast**ds are worse than us. Politicians, lords and ladies, they’re all worse than us and they will never admit us to their palaces no matter how legitimate we become because of who we are and where we’re from.” Tommy Shelby, class warrior, lays down the law.

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