Peaky Blinders, starring Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby, follows a gang in the streets of Birmingham. The show takes place in post World War I England, a major era of history. The gang is headed by the Shelby family, with Tommy Shelby as their leader. The show has been a major hit, and audiences have fallen in love with the brutal gang.
The show is actually rooted in history, as the gang in the show is based on an actual one of the same name. But how historically accurate is Peaky Blinders? While it depicts some things from the time period fairly well, there are still some major artistic liberties that are taken with the source material. The show-runners seem to have wanted to capture the feeling of the time period but still chose to alter history to fit into the narrative. Overall, Peaky Blinders’ historical accuracy and interesting story blend together perfectly, maintaining enough of a connection to the past while still providing something new and fascinating.
Updated on April 6th, 2022 by Stuart Kilmartin: Peaky Blinders has finally concluded its six-season run on the BBC. Fans of the series need not worry though, because Tommy and the rest of the Peaky Blinders will return in a feature-length movie that is reported to be set around the time of the Second World War. Peaky Blinders has always been a series deeply steeped in both historical realism and historical fabrication. While many of the key characters in the show are based on real-life historical figures, many of the events from its six-season run were fictionalized for dramatic effect.
Things In Peaky Blinders That Were Historically Accurate
One of the most iconic parts of the show is directly based on the original Peaky Blinders. The iconic hats the gang wears in the show were widely worn by the gang members in real life.
The distinctive headwear was such an important feature of the gang that it is actually where the name Peaky Blinders originated. The peaked caps are more than just a cool look for the show, they were almost like a uniform, and in the mugshots of the original Peaky Blinders, you can see them all wearing the signature hat.
The Post-War Culture
Peaky Blinders starts in 1919 immediately following the end of World War I. The show does a fantastic job of capturing the feeling of the time period, as the world recovered from the devastation of the Great War.
The aftermath of the war significantly influenced culture, which eventually led to the roaring ’20s. Peaky Blinders paints a picture of this transition, where hardship led to wild lifestyles and illicit activity.
The Fear Of Communism
Alongside the major global event that was the First World War was another political development that can be seen in the show, the Communist Revolution in Russia. The fear of Communism spreading was rampant across the rest of Europe.
In the show, the suspicion of someone being a communist is shown, and it is clear the level of distrust and hatred that many have towards the movement. This is a great depiction of the way that many felt at the time.
The Horse Racing
A major operation for the Peaky Blinders is running bets on horse races. This is representative of the time period, as gambling was largely prohibited. The lack of other organized forms of gambling led to a serious rise in horse racing and large amounts of money were wagered on the races.
The Peaky Blinders used this to their advantage and make a serious profit from the operation. The show remains fairly accurate around the betting practices of the day, as large gangs would often run the operations.
One of the most prominent and evil characters to appear in the final two seasons of Peaky Blinders is Oswald Mosely, the leader of the British Union of Fascists. Portrayed by Sam Claflin, Mosely is used as an illustration of Europe’s sinking shift towards authoritarian regimes during the inter-war period.
Mosely was indeed a significant figure in British history as the country contended with the growth of Nazi Germany, and his relationship with Hitler as portrayed on the show is largely true based on historical records. Mosely’s influence on British politics and brand of Fascism largely fell out of favor as Britain edged closer to war with the Axis powers post-1936.
Things In Peaky Blinders That Were Fabricated
The Time Period
Though Peaky Blinders does a fantastic job of capturing the time period in which it is set, there’s just one major problem. The real Peaky Blinders weren’t as prevalent following World War I. The original Peaky Blinders were much more prevalent in the 1890s.
The show took the gang and placed them in a different era because the setting following the Great War was an interesting route to take. Even though it’s not exactly historically accurate, the time period adds a lot to the BBC show.
In the show, the Peaky Blinders have a rather deadly addition to the traditional peaked caps that they wear. They put razor blades into the rim of the cap and use it as a weapon. This leads to some incredibly interesting fight scenes with the gang swinging around their hats with brutal efficiency.
The show even gives the blades as the reason the gang has their name, as the hats are used to cut the faces of their enemies, blinding them with their own blood. It’s a clever origin for the name Peaky Blinders, but unfortunately, there’s no evidence that the original gang ever did this.
Winston Churchill makes several appearances throughout the show and while it may be cool to have one of history’s most important figures featured, from a historical standpoint it doesn’t make much sense.
Winston Churchill never would have interacted with the original Peaky Blinders due to the time period. The show gives a not entirely accurate timeline of his career and the depiction of his character is little more than entirely fictitious.
During the show, the Peaky Blinders deal with the IRA or the Irish Republican Army. The IRA rose to prominence right after World War I.
While it is accurate that the IRA would have been active during the time of the show, most of what is shown of them is inaccurate. Peaky Blinders uses the IRA to make an interesting story but is not concerned about the history of the actual movement.
The biggest thing that was created for the show without a basis in history is the main character himself. There is no record of a real Tommy Shelby that was a member of the Peaky Blinders.
While there is no historical figure for Shelby, he is still an incredibly compelling and interesting character. The show-runners did a great job of imagining what the leader of a gang like the Peaky Blinders would be like.
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