Welcome back Peaky Blinders – series 2 opener (spoilers)

When series one of Steven Knight’s ‘Peaky Blinders’ was shown this time last year it ended with what seemed like a cliffhanger setting up a second run with the Shelby family.  My take on that final episode was ‘Setting up a second series?‘ and of course, that was the case.

Endings which leave questions hanging and the fate of others open are always the most infuriating in a way (consider the way the stunning final episode of Sherlock series 2 morphed into the disappointing splutter of the first episode of series 3).  So it with a resounding thumbs-up that I report that no such problem has blighted ‘Peaky Blinders’.

We’re back on the railway station early on in the episode where Major Campbell (Sam Neill) aims a gun at spy Grace (Annabelle Wallis), and with the outstanding question of ‘who fired the shot’ quickly answered, we are ready to move on.

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Medea (National Theatre) review

The National Theatre has never staged a production of ‘Medea’ before, and this version with minimalist set and modern dress is a short and snappy ninety minutes – quite a relief after my recent run of 3+ hour shows.

Euripides wrote the original play in 431 BC, and this new production is presented in a version by Ben Power, and directed by Carrie Cracknell.  It focuses on the tragic force of fate which drives the central character (played by Helen McCrory) to commit the ultimate sin of filicide, murdering her two small sons to gain revenge of their father, Jason, who has abandoned her to take a new wife, the daughter of the King. 

Although some of the cast may be a little underpowered, especially Michaela Coel as the Nurse (I doubt her voice can reach the top tier of the Olivier), McCrory is on rip-roaring form as she plans her revenge while being so duplicitous in oozing charm to her ex-husband, prostrating herself before the King who plans to send her into exile, or playing the loving mother to her TV-watching, gadget-playing boys.

The chorus, led by Midsomer Murders actress Jane Wymark, build up the tension with their ticks and twitches leading into wild dancing, while of the three main male roles, Martin Turner is an imperious Kreon, Danny Sapani a curiously detached Jason, and Dominic Rowan an underused Aegeus. 

Although the wedding sequences, seen through glass walls in the top of the set, are well-done, it is the closing moments you will remember – the off-screen screams of the boys as their mother approaches with a knife, Jason’s sense of loss as he realises his sons have been snapped away, and Medea’s final and literal shouldering of blame, heartbreaking as she eventually only achieves in destroying herself and all she holds dear.  It’s in this sequence where McCrory reaches the pinnacle of this performance – I saw this play in 1992 with Diana Rigg and didn’t think it could be topped, but this final scene touched and appalled me in a way few performances have.

We have two emotional powerhouses going on in London at the moment, with McCrory’s Medea and Richard Armitage’s John Proctor in The Crucible.  I highly recommend you try and see both.

Peaky Blinders – setting up a second series?

After six weeks’ worth of episodes, ‘Peaky Blinders’ finally came to an end last night,  Set in post-Great War Birmingham, this series introduced us to the Shelby family (Arthur, Tommy, John, Ada, Finn and Aunt Polly) who ruled their town with threats, fights, and razor blades hidden in their flat caps.

Although there were real lawless gangs of the type depicted in the series in 1919’s Birmingham, the family is fictional – although the race-fixer, strutting Billy Kimber, is based on a real-life character of the same name.   Steven Knight’s series was touted before its launch on BBC2 as ‘the British Boardwalk Empire’, and certainly in stylised cinematography and eclectic soundtrack (mainly Nick Cave), it was fresh and very different to anything we have seen on British television for a while.

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