Peaky Blinders, episode 3 review: Crowded outing ticks all our favourite boxes

Tommy Shelby has tried on many flat-caps for size on Peaky Blinders (BBC1): lover, killer, one-man Nick Cave murder ballad fan-club. This week we are introduced to his latest guise of anti-fascist James Bond in an episode that ticks all our favourite Peaky boxes. There is death, destruction and a set-piece involving hand grenades, Catholic-hating gangsters and exploding caravans. Who could want for more? 

Shelby (Cillian Murphy) obviously doesn’t require a license to kill. Still, he is very much On His Majesty’s Secret Service by the final credits. His cunning plan is to sign up to Oswald Mosley’s new party, the British Union of Fascists, and report from the inside to his resident intelligence contact, Ben Younger (Kingsley Ben-Adir). 

How could a tough Brummie possibly win the trust of the Home County Hitler (Sam Claflin) and his goons? The deeply improbable answer is that Oswald is appreciative of the cut of Tommy’s jib and offers him the position of deputy leader. This is TV show logic at its most blaring (even more blaring than the soundtrack). Then again, who among us has ever watched Peaky Blinders for its realism? 

Mosley also name-drops his good friend Mussolini. On the heels of the message Tommy received in part one from his old mucker Winston Churchill, it’s tempting to conclude that show runner Steven Knight is determined to reference as many historical figures in as short a time as possible. We look forward to the future instalment in which Tommy embarks on a road trip with Adolf Hitler, Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin.

Secret Agent Shelby versus the Fascists will no doubt furnish Peaky Blinders with its overarching story this season. But episode three is so stuffed the central plot felt almost beside the point. There’s an especially distressing scene in which Arthur (Paul Anderson) beats to death the Quaker whom his estranged wife, Linda (Kate Phillips), has taken into her confidence.

“I’m a peaceful man,” slurs Arthur over the corpse. In the background, Anna Calvi is singing David Bowie. In an hour filled with Very Peaky Blinders moments this is the Peakiest of them all. 

Sparks are elsewhere flying between Michael’s pregnant wife Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy) and hellish mother-in-law Polly (Helen McCrory). A straight-talking American, Gina makes little secret of the fact that she doesn’t intend spending very long in Birmingham. 

“My baby will be born in New York,” she crisply informs the grandmother to be. Polly fixes her with a death glare. Clearly Gina’s plan will not be coming to fruition. The fun will be seeing in how Polly puts manners on her irreverent daughter-in-law.

Meanwhile, the hand-grenades feature in the denouement as the Peakys step up their conflict against the Billy Boys gang in Glasgow. We saw just how nasty these new antagonists were last week when they crucified boxer Bonnie Gold as a warning to Tommy. It turns out that this provocation will be the Billy Boys’s cross to bear as Bonnie’s father, Aberama (Aidan Gillen of the magical wandering accents) sets off on a trail of vengeance.

Old-flame Polly springs Aberama from hospital and helps him on his way to Scotland. Once there, Aberama sends a warning to Billy Boys leader Jimmy McCavern (Brian Gleeson) by pouring hot tar all over the face of one of his bruisers. 

McCavern retaliates by attacking Aberama’s caravans. What he doesn’t know is that Arthur, fresh from his Quaker killing, has gone north and booby-trapped the doors. Boom: Peaky Blinders reminds us actions may speak louder than words, but wonderfully shot slow-motion explosions are more deafening still.  

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