For over a decade now, TV box set junkies in Britain have reveled in a particular strain of cultural self-flagellation.
It has gone something like this (in a tone both self-pitying and snobbish): "Why can’t we make proper TV dramas, like the Americans? Why do they get The Sopranos and Mad Men and Breaking Bad when all we get is Doctor Who and Downton?"
Ever since, a steady succession of British-made TV shows have been hyped as the answer to this undeniable imbalance, promising to place us as sure-footed among our trans-Atlantic cousins as we are in comedy, music, literature and all other areas of entertainment. Most have failed.
But – and we don’t say this lightly – 2013 looks like the year when this could finally, finally be about to change.
Fresh on the heels of the superb second series of Top Boy, the Channel 4 crime drama that blossomed less into ‘Britain’s answer to The Wire’ and more into a complex character study in our own fine kitchen sink traditions, and the genuinely original and superbly performed Utopia, is Peaky Blinders, which debuts tonight on BBC 2 at 9pm.
A British gangster story may not sound like an exciting prospect, until you consider it’s set not in London or Manchester but Birmingham – ‘a blank canvas’, as director Otto Bathurst described it to Esquire for our October issue – in 1919.
Leading the unusual premise is Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins), in what already looks like a career-defining role as the ambitious young head of a local crime family (the real life Peaky Blinders, who wore razor blades in their caps to deliver sharper-than-usual head-butts to any enemies).
Episode one sets up the complicated battle brewing between the Blinders, a group of local Communists, the IRA and CI Campbell (played by Sam Neill), the police chief sent by none other than Winston Churchill to investigate a robbery and clean up the city.
It’s an explosive and highly promising start that shows off both the BBC’s considerable investment (£1m per episode) and, most importantly for the on-going saga of British TV drama, some top quality writing. Don’t miss it.