In the last half century, the stylization of violence has given us some great filmmakers, such as Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone and Quentin Tarantino and the small screen hasn’t exactly fallen short when it comes to grimy blood-splattering deaths. You only have to remember the list of casualties on shows like Game of Thrones or Vikings. Now, from a strictly aesthetic and cinematographic point of view, there are three names that stand out. On the one hand, Nicolas Winding Refn and his experimental madness Too Old to Die Young. Another, David Lynch, of course, and his delicious return to the world of Twin Peaks. But you have to go to the third case to find a consistent and continuous trajectory: Steven Knight, with six seasons of Peaky Blinders, of which Netflix has recently released the last and final one.
The slow-motion scenes, those deathly silence followed by outbursts of violence, the excessive characters, the excellent indie and industrial music anachronistically rooted in the mid 1920’s, the meticulous cinematography… Peaky Blinders culminates its journey having been a veritable pleasure for the senses. The series has often skirted the abyss of getting lost in the aesthetics, crashing and burning along the way everything from historical accuracy to the authenticity of the script. But, despite all its licenses, the whole ends up forming a fairly careful portrait – wholly truthful – about a part of the north of England forgotten by the media and also about the labor and popular grassroots movements that began to take shape therein a hundred years ago.
Season six in addition shifts the focus to one highly engaging aspect: the activities of British (and American) fascists to try to add the country to the German Nazi trend. Thus, one of the dilemmas of the protagonist, Tommy Shelby – Cillian Murphy, as always magnificently attractive and repulsive at the same time – is to decide if his rise to power justifies making deals with such sinister undesirables. Some of the dinners shot in chiaroscuro powerfully recall the political and moral decadence you felt watching Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969). At the same time there is also an underlying tension surrounding this singular protagonist with the gypsy community he belongs to. Somehow, Tommy Shelby confronts yet another specimen of the memorable race of lone wolf, the one who has cut with his roots, has ceased to believe in everything but, at the same time, has yet to discover the path to his future, or hope for that matter.
In addition to all these ingredients that show’s creators have thrown into this cocktail – violence, power struggles and some base passions – the final batch of episodes are also powerfully marked by a feeling of absence: that of the actress Helen McCrory, who died just as filming began. Her character, Aunt Polly Gray, was one of the most charismatic in the series and the most powerful female presence in Blinder’s universe. The scenes where they bid their farewells to her are especially emotional, as viewers are more than aware that the actors are not only saying goodbye to a character: they were also paying their last respects to such a high-caliber artist and friend.
Although the show had to go on without McCrory, Polly Gray’s presence is felt in these final episodes, in which she embodies magic, gypsy roots, and the force of destiny. She appears to a Tommy who persists in defying his fate, forcing him to falter. He is the one chosen to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, even though it’s a burden he never asked to carry, but rather was imposed on him. This is where the older brother comes into the picture, the one who agreed not to lead: some of the scenes in which the two characters dialogue are the most intense and emotional of the entire series.
The ending is probably the Achilles’ heel of this last season, complete with a plot twist that skids a little and could well have deserved a bit more grease on the axels, even though it does manage to resolve one of the principal threads throughout: that of the Shelby Brothers’ trauma from their participation in World War I, which explains their immunization to violence. The climax is not explosive. Rather, look for the low tone, that of the simple but powerful gesture.
So, where do we go from here? Knight is already working on a film tasked with answering some of the questions that remain unresolved after this final season. And although he has not uttered the magic word spin-off, he has expressed a desire to continue exploring this world, probably through some other character and entering a different historical period. We won’t have to wait long: he has plenty of credit with the bank to ensure BBC approval, who are all too delighted with this latest global grand slam.