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Picture: Telegraph

Peaky Blinders, BBC2

Another review for Varsity. Find the original here.

Aside from the usual lectures, supervisions and (ahem) ‘keeping up with my dissertation’, the main focus of my attention in the past two weeks has been attempting to persuade as many people as possible to catch up on Peaky Blinders. It seemed that no one really knew what I was talking about when I asked if they’d been watching the series. It’s a shame, because, as the breath-snatching finale confirmed on Thursday, this really has been a drama worth watching.

Whilst the finale didn’t quite match up to the brilliance of episode five, it is still every bit as classy, and every bit as tense. It opens on the morning of the Peaky Blinders’ final confrontation with Billy Kimber – and the gang are being rallied for battle by their leader, Tommy (Cillian Murphy).

Divine bone structure aside, Murphy has carried the series effortlessly in his portrayal of the damaged and disillusioned protagonist, conveying Tommy’s fierce love and sense of responsibility for his family whilst maintaining a cold, indifferent exterior. It’s moments when this facade softens that make us sympathetic to Tommy, despite his dubious and often brutal behaviour; but his attitude can switch in a millisecond. His scenes with Grace in this episode perfectly display this fluidity – tenderness turns to realisation and regret in the hardening of a gaze, a clenching of the jaw.

The crux of this episode was of course the Western-style showdown with Kimber and his men. But Aunt Pol’s altercation with Grace was far more threatening in its subtlety. Helen McCrory as Aunt Pol sheds all the vulnerability she displayed earlier on when revealing the fate of her children to Ada, pours a drink, and delivers ruthlessness-with-a-smile to a defenceless Grace. It’s these one-to-one scenes – including Tommy’s icy confrontations with Inspector Campbell (Sam Neill) – that make Peaky Blinders such a compelling watch.

Grace herself (Annabelle Wallis), who up until now has been harder to read than James Joyce, finally seems to show some genuine remorse. ‘Tommy, I’ve done something terrible to you,’ she whispers through her tears, as it’s revealed that Tommy’s plans have been foiled. I almost felt sorry for her. But it’s testament to Wallis that we’re left doubting Grace’s sincerity right until the very end.

The cliffhanger at the close of the episode has stirred mixed feelings amongst viewers. Generally, I prefer definite endings to dramas – but if it means we’re going to get a second dose of Tommy & Co. then I’m willing to let it slide. Beautifully shot, impeccably acted (despite a few questionable accents), and with a script that makes Downton Abbey sound like the Teletubbies, Peaky Blinders has been one of the strongest dramas the BBC has delivered in a while.

When it came to my persuasive efforts I’m pleased to say that one friend ended up cramming in five episodes over a period of three days. The series is still online for a couple of days – I urge anyone else who’s missed out to do the same.

Homeland, Channel 4

It’s been a while since Homeland last graced our screens, so the hefty recap at the beginning of this episode was most welcome. Once we’d got our heads round the not-so-recent chain of events (which culminated in the detonation of a car bomb at Langley, and a resulting 219 casualties in a nail-biting season finale) we were plunged straight back into the action, a mere 58 days later.

Well, I say plunged, but compared to what we’re used to with Homeland – unflagging drama interspersed with excruciating tension from start to finish – it was more of a light paddle. The only real moment of tension was the Wizard of Oz-themed (it was more tense than it sounds, I promise) operation involving the ever-enigmatic and ruthless Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend). First episodes of new seasons are always difficult, though, because they do require a certain amount of scene setting.

Much of the episode focussed on the reaction of Brody’s family to his disappearance and framing as the culprit for the Langley attack (in case you’d forgotten, Brody did a runner at the end of the last season when the car containing the bomb turned out to be his own.) Dana, in particular, has suffered heavily the consequences of her father’s fall from grace. In this episode she has just returned from therapy after an attempted suicide. We witness her mother, Jessica’s (Morena Baccarin) worry as she struggles to come to terms with her new situation. She’s applying for accountancy jobs while Dana (Morgan Saylor) is in her room sending nude pictures to a boy she met in therapy. Whilst I have enjoyed the subplots involving the Brody family in previous seasons, I’m not sure how I feel about their stories dominating an episode as they did on Sunday. They work well as supporting characters but I can’t see their scenes sustaining similar amounts of interest to those involving Brody or Carrie.

Carrie (Claire Danes) is still scribbling intensely on notepads and creating hugely intricate wall displays (can I hire her to decorate my new room?). Citing ‘alternative medicine’, she’s off the lithium again and supplementing her daily 6 mile run with copious amounts of tequila, which she picks up (apparently in addition to random strangers) from the off-licence round the corner. Throughout this episode Danes once again proves that she is entirely worthy of the numerous awards she has won for her portrayal of Carrie. Her meltdown in the restaurant certainly packed a punch, whilst her reaction to being let down by Saul at the close of the episode was especially poignant.

What of Saul himself? He’s busy trying to save any ounce of CIA credibility he can alongside the sinister Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), who we met last series (and who I can’t remember anything about, except that he was shady – I think a quick Wikipedia visit is due). Saul suspects Adal of leaking information about Carrie and Brody to the inquiry, something Adal denies (but doesn’t necessarily disapprove of).

On the whole, it was a slightly slow start to the new series. But it was classic Homeland in the sense that the viewer can trust no one. We’ve also seen nothing of Brody (Damian Lewis) yet, and limited amounts of Quinn and Carrie. Hopefully the pace will pick up next week – I’ll definitely be watching.