This article was originally published in The Courier on Saturday 4th October 2014.
Peaky Blinders: Thursday, BBC Two
24 Hours in Police Custody: Monday, Channel 4
Deliberately over-stylised and luridly violent, the first series of Peaky Blinders was an entertaining riot of period gangster mayhem. Granted, the dialogue was often rather clunky, but I found I was willing to overlook its flaws and go along for the ride. It was fun and propulsive, with just enough depth to justify its self-conscious swagger.
Can it keep that momentum going over a second series? On the evidence of last week's return, I'm not entirely certain. It may sound odd to describe a drama full of choreographed violence and cold-blooded murder as curiously muted, especially one which began with a pub being blown to pieces, but episode one felt rather hollow and lethargic. Critics immune to the charms of Peaky Blinders have always accused it of being mere style over substance, but in this case the accusations felt valid.
As we returned to 1920s Birmingham, which in the hands of writer Steven Knight is depicted as a hellish furnace at the lawless ends of the Earth, implacable gangster Thomas Shelby was firmly ensconced in his role as the city's leading crime kingpin. His plans for an expansion to London dominated proceedings, to the extent that it appeared to be the only major plot development. Knight spent too long putting his pieces in place at the expense of moving the action forward.
The lengthy, slow-motion scene in which Thomas assassinated someone on behalf of his Irish associates was pure padding, seemingly included because the director couldn't resist matching his eye-catching visuals to the music of Johnny Cash. While the show's anachronistic blues/country score is a vital part of its grungy western aesthetic, scenes such as this make it feel like an elongated music video. The clanking, igneous, soot-drenched production design is stunning, but it should never dominate as much as it did here.
Apparently sculpted entirely from glass, Cillian Murphy continues to thrive on pure charisma as Thomas, but I did find myself impatiently waiting for the much-publicised arrival of the great Tom Hardy. Alas, he was nowhere to be found in episode one, which simply added to the sense of anticlimax.
This stodgy curtain-opener was hopefully just a fleeting wobble, before it returns to form next week. Peaky Blinders is one of our most distinctive TV dramas, so it would be a shame if it ran out of gas so soon.
Produced by the team behind the justly lauded 24 Hours in A&E, 24 Hours in Police Custody is a similarly engrossing observational documentary following the Bedfordshire police force as they attempt to charge their suspects within hours of arrest.
Without an ounce of dubious contrivance, it succeeds in providing the police with the sort of positive publicity they're currently in dire need of. The officers involved came across as decent human beings doggedly in pursuit of justice. Episode one's unlikely star was DC Martin Hart, whose affable approach to interrogation was honed during his time spent working as a holiday rep. Here was an ordinary copper, simply doing his job to the best of his abilities.
His prolonged efforts to charge a man suspected of conspiracy to murder resulted in a simple yet effective hour of television, steeped in tension and humour. There was more drama in the minutiae of this process than you'd find in most scripted police procedurals. Thoughtful, enlightening stuff.