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February 23, 2023

Breaking Down Beaky Blinders

Though the BBC is a cultural titan in British TV, it’d be hard to argue that any of their new shows of the 2010s was more influential than Peaky Blinders Series 1. Inspiring male hairstyle for the better part of the decade, the show can teach us a lot about what makes a show leap off the page and into the hearts of the viewers.

Let's breakdown the structure, plot and characters in Peaky Blinders to see what we can learn.

What is Peaky Blinders all about?

Peaky Blinders is about the titular gang, a historical group of criminals who operated in Birmingham during and post World War I. The gang are well known for their razor blades, sewed into their caps which they’d use as weapons if things weren’t looking so great.

The main characters in the Peaky Blinders gang dressed up and sat on a 1920s open top car
Peaky Blinders is set in the British interwar peroid which includes the General Strike and industrial unrest of the 1920s.

This show follows a fictionalized version of the gang primarily through the Shelby family, a group of working class criminals who, over decades, rise to immense power and prestige in the area, even influencing national politics in the run up to World War II.

Of course, getting to that position of power is no simple task. Characters are regularly killed off, the antagonists range from preacher-like inspectors from Belfast, Italian mobsters operating out of New York, and even historical figures like Oswald Mosley who plays a role in the General Strike of 1926.

What themes and motifs are explored in the Peaky Blinders series?

The Peaky Blinders series has explored a number of different themes and motifs in its five seasons. The main themes explored in the series include loyalty, revenge, power, and family dynamics. Other themes that are explored include corruption and crime, morality, class struggle, and the cost of ambition.

Motifs of the series include the use of light and dark imagery, the idea of fate and predestination, and the concept of the ever-present ‘underdog’. Additionally, the series explores the concept of ‘code’ and its importance in the Peaky Blinders world. The idea of power and control and stability after the First World War is also an important motif explored in the series.

Who are the main characters in Peaky Blinders?

Let's break down the main characters in Peaky Blinders.

Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy)

The middle brother of the Shelby family, Tommy is a veteran of the Great War. He’s an opium addict as a way of coping with the trauma of his time in combat. Despite his reserved nature, he is essentially the leader of the Shelby family crime family on account of his intelligence and ingenuity.

Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders. He is dressed in a suit.
Tommy Shelby, the leader of the Peaky Blinders Gang.

Chester Campbell (Sam Niell)

A policeman brought over from Belfast to hunt down the peaky blinder gang and arrest them. Campbell is a fire and brimstone style police officer who isn’t afraid to use brutal tactics in the name of cracking down on crime, even if that means he compromises his own morality in the process.

Polly Gray (Helen McCrory)

The aunt of Tommy and his brothers, Polly is the pseudo matriarch of the family who acts as a mother figure to the Shelby boys. Polly is steeped in the mysticism of the Shelby Romani background, and finds herself increasingly at odds with the dangerous world Tommy encourages the Shelbys to take their business.

Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson)

Arthur Shelby is the eldest of the Shelby family. A taller and broader man than Tommy, Arthur is a brute who uses physical force and violence to get his way. However, in a world that requires more wits than brawn, Arthur finds himself increasingly unsure of himself in a world that values him less and less as the years go on.

Breaking down Peaky Blinders

Now let's break down the main plot of Peaky Blinders.


Birmingham, 1919. Tommy Shelby rides a racehorse through Birmingham and uses fortune telling superstitions to convince passersby that it will win the upcoming races.


It turns out that Tommy is the owner of a bookmakers alongside his brother Arthur. Usually they fix races. Arthur is mad that Tommy gave the local people a good tip and doesn’t trust that Tommy has a handle on things. At a family meeting, Arthur raises the problem, and Polly, the matriarch of the family, says that a brutal policeman called Campbell from Belfast is on his way to Birmingham to crack down on their activities.

Inciting incident

It turns out the reason Campbell is coming to Birmingham is because a shipment of guns from the BSA has been stolen. Now Campbell is coming to Belfast to find them. These guns are key, because they’ve brought the interests of the government directly onto Birmingham and the Shelby family.

Turn to two

Turns out, this is for good reason, because Tommy stole the guns by accident. Tommy currently has them in storage and is weighing up what to do with them. The guts of this episode are about him figuring out what to do with these weapons.


Meanwhile, Inspector Campbell arrives in Birmingham and begins to lay down the law, promising that he will crack down hard on any subversives in the city. As Tommy weighs up his options with the guns, someone called Grace arrives at the Shelby pub (called The Garrison) looking for a job. She charms her way in almost instantly.


Campbell makes the first big move against the Shelby family and kidnaps Arthur. Shelby makes Arthur and offer, telling him that he’ll leave the Peaky Blinders alone if they help him find the BSA guns. Things have become really serious. The days of small-time crime are over, and now the Shelby family are in the big leagues.


Campbell let Arthur go back to the family with the offer. Arthur is pissed off with Tommy once he realizes he was beaten up for Tommy’s mistake. The walls are closing in on Tommy, so he resorts to an old habit of smoking opium, and hallucinates a traumatic memory from the Great War.

Things only get worse. It turns out Grace, the new barmaid at The Garrison, is actually a mole working on behalf of Campbell. Meanwhile, another veteran from the Great War associated with the Peaky Blinders kills an Italian immigrant, and the Italians want blood.

Turn to Three

Tommy chooses to keep the guns, despite the walls closing in. He concludes that this is the time the Peaky Blinders can rise to power if they play their cards right.


A new course set and determination a plenty, Tommy refuses to give up his veteran friend to the mafia. Instead, he fakes his veteran’s friend’s death with an ingenious plan, an exhibition of Tommy’s cunning.


The episode ends with the results of the horserace that Tommy was involved with at the beginning. The horse that was blessed by a supposed witch won the race. Arthur is furious, but Tommy tells him that they’ll keep the horse winning until everyone bets, then the horse will lose. It’s a microcosm of the kinds of plans Tommy comes up with, and the kinds of plans he’ll need a lot more of if he wants to survive the coming days with the government and mafia breathing down his neck.

What lessons does the Peaky Blinders series provide about loyalty and survival?

The Peaky Blinders series offers compelling insights into how loyalty and survival are intertwined. Throughout the TV series, we see characters who are fiercely loyal to family and friends, sometimes at great cost. This loyalty is often a source of strength, but it can also be a liability. For example, Tommy Shelby's loyalty to his brothers led to him being manipulated and taken advantage of in certain situations.

The series also emphasizes the importance of survival. The family is constantly challenged by external forces and their loyalty to each other is tested, but their ability to survive and thrive is a testament to their resilience. They remain loyal to each other and learn to adapt to the ever-changing landscape in order to survive.

The Peaky Blinders series is a reminder of the power of loyalty and the need for survival. The show demonstrates that survival often requires a combination of loyalty to loved ones and the ability to adapt. It's a lesson worth remembering when it comes to writing a script.

What can we learn from Peaky Blinders plot?

The Peaky Blinders pilot is a typical example of a TV show pilot. It introduces all the main characters in a family epic, the setting, the tone, the main conflict, and centers everything around a choice to be made by the protagonist. That choice will set off the rest of the TV show.

For more great blogs about writing for TV be sure to check out our blog.


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Breaking Down Beaky Blinders
Alex D. Reid

Alex is a professional screenwriter who loves writing horror. He won the horror category at Austin Film Festival for his screenplay Delirium in 2019 and is currently studying for a Ph.D in English Literature with a focus on the horror genre

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