BSA231: Peaky Blinders

I’m very taken with this series at the moment. In fact, “taken” might not be quite a strong enough word because I’d more consider it to be my favourite thing.
It’s such a beautiful production, and so well written with a brilliant cast so it’s no wonder I’m loving it.
I had seen it on Netflix for a while, but had scrolled past thinking I’d watch it another time. Then I discovered that one of my favourite actors, Tom Hardy, had a role in it and I was down… and by down I mean I just sat myself down right there and then and started watching.

I quickly forgot that I was waiting for Tom hardy to make an appearance (turns out I had to wait for the second season anyhow) because the cinematography was so beautiful and the writing of the show so good.
One of the things I noticed was the unusual style of framing. It doesn’t happen all the time, but occasionally there would be what I would refer to as “negative space”. It’s not strictly speaking negative space, but the reason I call it that is the subject of the shot is in the corner of the frame with the background, while important to each location, is flat and appear more like a backdrop from a stage play. I noticed this particularly in the first season (in fact, I think the two examples below are from the first episode). What I really enjoy about these two shots is that they are balanced out; the characters in the bottom left corners are balanced by the horse/chandelier in the top right.

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Another thing I liked about the cinematography of this series the unconventional use of “looking space”. Normally a character will be framed on one side of the frame and looking into the space on the other. Peaky Blinders is often framed in the opposite way with the character looking to the side of the frame he is on, leaving the space awkwardly open. This kind of framing is purposeful and not done just to be different. In the scenes these examples are from, I think this framing represents this character’s mindset about the situations. This character, Tommy (Cillian Murphy), is always looking ahead, considering the future, and working towards that. To me, this framing represents the character’s situation in which he is seemingly stuck, but the fact the he is looking to the side of the frame, into what we as the veiwer cannot see, shows how he is thinking outside of, and is somehow able to see beyond his current situation.

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The example below is the brother to the shot above as these two characters are conversing in this scene. Major Campbell (Sam Neill), the character below, compared to Tommy above has plenty of looking space and always uses it. This, along with the relaxed feeling of the mid-shot framing, allows the character to appear and feel in control and be confident. Tommy on the other hand, is framed in a close-up and only occasionally looks into the space in the direction of Major Campbell. Although this framing and these actions suggest Tommy is trapped with no way out, the nature of the character, as discussed earlier, suggests he is more in control than he appears and sees a way out of his situation that is not clear to the viewer or Major Campbell.

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The shots below are here mostly because I think they are beautiful shots that do a really good job in capturing the character’s emotional state.

As far as I can tell, the first shot (and a lot of others in this series) are lit naturally and, as I’ve explained in a previous post, I really love natural lighting. This particular shot, I think beautifully captures the emotions of the moment – Tommy is surrendering and preparing to die while maintaining a sense of pride and courage. The low angle suggests Tommy is less powerful in this situation (because he has accepted his defeat), but the stance of the character indicates his courage and pride as he is holding his head high.

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I particularly like the lighting and the shallow depth of field in this shot below. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is about shallow depth of field that I like, but whenever I see it in film or photography, it really captures my attention. In fact, this often happens in Peaky Blinders, so I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoy this series so much.
What I enjoy about the lighting in this shot is how soft it is, but also the way it is very minimal and creates a lot of shadows on the right side of the face. To have Tommy fully lit in this scene wouldn’t make sense for the world it is set in or the time period. Peaky Blinders is set in the late 1910s – early 1920s so the inside lighting of houses at that time would have been quite dim. The series is also set in the city, in an industrial area, so the air would likely be quite smokey.

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The shot below is from the “Gypsy fight scene”. The actual fight in this scene is all slow motion and is really very beautiful, but some parts are quite unusual as they are out of focus, like the example below.
Another part of this show that I really enjoy, which I have’t mentioned until now, is the music and how it compliments each scene is accompanies. Most of the music in this series is performed by Nick Cave. The creator of the show, Steven Knight, didn’t want to have period music because he thought it would be more relatable more a modern audience to hear modern music. I agree with this decision, I think period music would have changed the feeling of the series completely. The music that was used makes it feel quite gritty and I really like that.

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This is the “Gypsy fight scene”that the screenshot above comes from. Although this particular clip is four minutes long it’s worth the watch because I think it gives a good overview of the general style and feel of the series. It’s also a great example of the music that is used.


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