After the convoluted events of series three, Peaky Blinders’ explosive comeback sets up a simple yet effective premise.
*Contains spoilers for Peaky Blinders series 4, episode one’*
The Shelby family are fractured. Estranged from one another.
But a new threat in the form of the vengeful Italian-American Mafia forces them to get the gang back together.
It’s The Good Life meets The Godfather in this welcome return.
Fleeing from the country homes they never really belonged in, the Shelbys return to their gritty roots. Just as the show itself does the same.
Literal gallows humour
Thrusting us straight into the grimy cells and awaiting executions of Arthur, John, Michael and Polly, the bleak opening feels like a rather heavy-handed way to build tension right at the start of the series.
But the hilarious pay-off makes it more than worthwhile.
Only Tommy Shelby could blackmail his way into the New Year’s Honours list immediately after freeing his family from the hangman’s noose.
That’s Mr Thomas Shelby OBE, to you and me.
The show’s literal gallows humour is in fine force here. In fact, this might be the most entertaining Blinders has been in quite some time.
Polly is still terrific
John - struggling to adjust to the quiet rural life - blasts at a passing bird with both barrels and then his trusty revolver. Later, he walks into the living room with an entire arsenal of guns after learning of the new threat.
Then there’s the scene where Helen McCrory’s increasingly Lady Macbeth esque Aunt Polly - wild-eyed, traumatised and drug-addled - still manages to work out every aspect of Tommy’s plan without missing a beat.
“He said ‘keep her off the whisky’ didn’t he?” she fires at Michael.
Wonderfully played by Helen McCrory, she remains one of the drama’s finest assets. As does Paul Anderson as the haunted Arthur - here attempting to juggle cigars and babies in the countryside.
Adrien Brody: ‘enigmatic and threatening’
All this, in spite of the pervading sense of doom.
With Tommy having incurred the wrath of the Mafia - first by usurping London mobster Sabini, and then by murdering the local rival who accidentally killed Grace - the entire family are living under a death sentence.
Being sent the ‘Black Hand’ is no-one’s idea of a welcome Christmas card.
Enter Adrien Brody’s ominous enforcer at customs. A man of few words who nonetheless cuts a menacing figure.
Peaky Blinders has always had exceptional bad guys, from Sam Neill’s sly, conniving detective to Paddy Considine’s terrifying paedophile priest, and Noah Taylor’s lisping, furious Sabini (who may perhaps return this series, given the over-arching narrative).
It remains to be seen whether Brody can rival the show’s previous villains, but his introduction is suitably enigmatic and threatening.
Heavy is the head
It’s terrific to see that the show’s stylish swagger is still very much in force.
The moment where Cillian Murphy strides through a car factory in slow-motion, sparks flying in the background while rock music blares on the soundtrack, could be practically trade-marked.
As-always, the drama looks set to involve political intrigues of the time too.
The female union activist hints at themes of women’s suffrage and the looming backdrop of the General Strike.
Hopefully she won’t become another tacked-on love interest for Tommy. Their initial meeting is tense and hostile but with a simmering undercurrent.
As for Shelby esquire himself, the whole ‘heavy is the head’ aspect explored by most rise-and-fall gangster epics is once again in attendance.
Alienated from his family, Tommy languishes in his massive mansion with only his young son and housekeeper for company, wearily ordering prostitutes in a hotel and brooding in that quietly intense way that Murphy does so well.
Echoes of The Godfather
When this episode’s ultra-violence does come, it feels suitably well-earned.
Suspense builds and builds before the inevitable outbursts.
The revelation about Tommy’s new ‘sous chef’ is carefully crafted so that the viewer works it out a split-second before our anti-hero (though why the Mafia did not strike earlier is anyone’s guess).
Poor Johnny Dogs - who was no doubt looking forward to his slap-up Christmas dinner - is left to clean up the mess after Tommy gets busy with a meat-hook.
The show’s new Godfather vibe is further emphasised in the shocking final scene.
One that leaves little doubt that at least one member of the Shelby clan is already out for the count.
As tommy guns roar and bullets tear through torsos it’s hard not to recall Sonny’s shocking demise in the American gangster classic.
Though this time a humble cart full of hay hides the reveal.
With Aidan Gillen’s “devilish” character yet to show and Tom Hardy’s magnificent Alfie Solomons set to return, there’s still plenty of intrigue to come too.
Peaky Blinders is on Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC Two. You can catch up on iPlayer now.