Why Peaky Blinders Is The Ultimate Working-Class Success Story

Sian BurkittSian Burkitt in Entertainment, TV
Published 02.08.19
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In Peaky Blinders we finally have an international export that glamorises a different kind of British history, and I am totally here for it.

In an ocean of British costume dramas, Steven Knight’s romanticised portrayal of Birmingham’s working-class past is a breath of fresh air. So, can we please see more diverse historical productions in the future?

An American friend recently told me she was surprised by how many regional accents there were when she moved to the UK.

At first I was confused and slightly miffed, but after thinking about it for a while I realised it made total sense from her perspective.

The sort of Britishness international audiences are exposed to through film and TV exports is, largely, that of Jane Austen adaptations, upper middle-class accents, and Benedict Cumberbatch. (Sorry, Benedict. I do love you, I promise.) This is especially true of the genre which, as a nation, we can’t seem to keep our hands off of – the period drama.

It is something which Line of Duty star Daniel Mays has referred to as “the Downtown effect.”

Period dramas are our niche and we are good at them. I get it. I appreciate Colin Firth in a wet shirt as much as any other human being.

But I want to see historical dramas telling stories that resonate with a wider demographic than just the aristocracy.

Not only that, but stories which bring to life the history of different people in a new, exciting way.

Cue Peaky Blinders.

It focuses on the lives of people who proudly wear their working-class, and Roma, upbringings proudly. Add to that the often maligned Brummie accent (albeit a slightly wobbly interpretation, admittedly) and you’ve got yourself a show with a refreshing perspective.

Finally, millions of us are able watch a historical drama where we can imagine our own families being involved in the events depicted.

Don’t just take my word for it, Tommy Shelby agrees with me.

“It’s refreshing that this is a story where working-class people look sexy and glamorous and stylish,” explained Cilian Murphy in a 2013 interview.

Sexy. That’s it. That’s the key.

It’s not just that this is a period drama with a working-class community (okay, gang, but that’s just semantics) at its core. It’s the fact that these people are given the sort of heroic and romanticised portrayal usually reserved to Hollywood blockbusters.

Which is exactly what the show’s creator Steven Knight was aiming for. To give Birmingham’s past the same treatment that cowboys got in the Western movies of the sixties.

And it worked. It has completely grabbed people’s imaginations and entered pop culture at large.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the scene. You’re walking along, minding your own business, and out of the corner of your eye you notice a sharply dressed bloke. But wait, hang on, is that a flat cap he has perched on his head?

Yes. Yes, it is.

You can add the flat cap to the list of things Peaky Blinders has made cool again, alongside high, tightly faded haircuts and even Birmingham itself.

The most impressive thing, however, is the fact that Peaky Blinders is not just a British phenomenon. It is now a global hit. It’s even managed to be the most watched Netflix show in some states in the US, making British working-class history cool on an international stage.

But woah there, hold your horses a second. Don’t get overly excited just yet.

These are still baby steps we’re talking about when it comes to the wider topic of representation in British productions.

British television dramas are still a notoriously difficult place for people of colour to get roles due the inclination towards the particular type of period dramas already mentioned.

In a 2017 interview, Thandie Newton stated that the ongoing preference for this sort of production has left “slim pickings” for people of colour.

Or think about the splash The Favourite or Gentleman Jack have made recently. They are refreshing, because we just aren’t used to seeing costume dramas revolving entirely around the lives of queer females.

But, why? The recent increase in productions such as these prove that we can keep our love affair with historical productions while also diversifying the stories we tell with them.

So, thank you, Peaky Blinders, for showing the world that period dramas about things other than fancy blokes being charming not only have oodles of sex appeal, but also resonate with audiences. Here’s to even more of it in the future.

Images via BBC

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