This Town: Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight evokes chaos, violence and hope of 1980s Birmingham

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Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
This Town was created by Steven Knight, the man behind Peaky Blinders.
This Town was created by Steven Knight, the man behind Peaky Blinders. Credit: SBS

In the Peaky Blinders universe, Birmingham in the post-World War I era is a crucible of tempestuous men, undying loyalty and sartorially sharp gangsters. With the Cillian Murphy-starring show, creator Steven Knight placed centre stage a working-class town that is often overlooked on screen.

Knight has taken that love for his hometown and set another story within its borders, even though the conflict spills out far beyond them. But rather than return to the era of Great War-induced PTSD, Knight’s new series, This Town, is set in the heady days of the 1980s.

It was the time when two-tone music, a style that combined ska with reggae, punk and new wave, exploded out of the Midlands and made stars of the likes of Madness, The Bodysnatchers and The Specials.

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Knight has borrowed this movement to craft a story about a group of young people in Birmingham, desperate to be someone so they don’t get dragged down into what seems to be the only other option in town – also explosive, but in a very different way.

The story is centred on an extended family, brothers Dante (Levi Brown) and Gregory (Jordan Bolger) and their cousin Bardon (Ben Rose). Dante is a college student with aspirations of being a poet. He’s smart, warm and straight-laced, at least at first. He has a mean punch, though he loathes to use it.

This Town was created by Steven Knight, the man behind Peaky Blinders.
This Town was created by Steven Knight, the man behind Peaky Blinders. Credit: SBS

Dante’s head is swirling with lines which his friend Jeannie (Eve Austin) offers to write music for because while she’s great with the chords, she’s terrible with the words. And then Bardon, with his formidable voice, can be the frontman of their band.

That all sounds very chaste and sweet and a little reminiscent of Irish filmmaker’s 2016 crowd-pleaser movie Sing Street but then you remember it’s a Knight show, so it’s bound to be much more complicated and violent.

All around them is the political and social turbulence of the era. Margaret Thatcher had just come into power and her union-busting crusade did no favours for the working class.

Bardon’s imposing father Eamonn (Peter McDonald) is heavily involved in the local IRA chapter and has decided his son must be involved in the cause. Bardon just wants to finish school, not filter cheap diesel or be part of political terrorism.

This Town was created by Steven Knight, the man behind Peaky Blinders.
This Town is set in a time and place of great political and social unrest. Credit: SBS

It also puts Bardon right in the crosshairs for Gregory who managed to get out of Birmingham when he joined the armed forces and is stationed right in the middle of the sectarian conflict in Belfast. Back home for a funeral, he is now under pressure from his commanders to spy on his own family or face prison as a deserter.

There’s also a local gangster fond of cutting off middle fingers trying to re-establish his bar as a music venue. And Michelle Dockery pops up as Bardon’s addict mum. Oh, and Dante wants to impress the girl who works at the record shop.

In other words, there’s a lot going on This Town. Too much going on. All the disparate elements are evocative of the chaos of the era but it’s hard to follow.

Knight is trying to weave together all these elements like two-tone did with genres of music but This Town mostly feels overwhelming and unfocused. But what is great about it is the performances from its young cast – with convincing Brummie accents – are very appealing.

Rating: 3/5

This Town is streaming on SBS On Demand


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