Cillian Murphy has recently been dragged into the “conversation” about the next James Bond. Presumably, this is because he combines the key attributes of two previous 007s – Pierce Brosnan (Irish) and Daniel Craig (blue-eyed, seems a bit grumpy).
But if Murphy graduates to a glamorous new career wearing tuxedos and being scolded as a Cold War relic by up-and-coming actresses, where does that leave Peaky Blinders (BBC One)? The answer was hinted at as the sixth and final season reached for its latest bombshell with - spoiler warning - the news Murphy’s Tommy Shelby has an inoperable brain tumour.
This explained Tommy’s seizures. And yet, as the doctor gave Tommy 18 months at most, the real question was: can Peaky Blinders survive without him? Because, while the series proper is approaching the finish line, writer and creator Steven Knight has already confirmed a Peaky Blinders film, to start shooting in 2023 (further potential spin-offs to follow).
But would it work with Tommy off the table? Peaky Blinders minus Shelby is like The Office minus David Brent or Batman vs Superman without Batman or Superman. As Tommy, Murphy’s key asset is his ability to stride towards camera at quarter speed as Nick Cave jingles and jangles in the background. Nobody does “walks in slow motion in period costume” better than Murphy: if there were an Oscar for it, his mantelpiece would be straining under the dead weight of little golden men.
So it was no surprise that the best scene this week followed a tip-off that Aunt Polly’s vampish daughter-in-law Gina Gray (Anya Taylor-Joy) was sleeping with Shelby’s pretend-friend Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin). Off Tommy prowled to confront her at Mosley’s love pad. And in thundered Nick Cave, singing "Do You Love Me?"
Swagger for swagger’s sake is what audiences love about Peaky Blinders, and there was more to follow. For instance, after a bruising dinner with Mosley, Mosley's mistress Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson), fascist gangster Jack Nelson (James Frecheville) and IRA honcho Captain Swing (Charlene McKenna), Tommy nipped out the back and let off steam by firing a machine gun into the sky.
It was ridiculous bordering on camp. As was the rest of the episode. Earlier, rather than simply bury daughter Ruby, Tommy had, of course, set her funeral carriage on fire. As the flames licked the air he stalked moodily away, wife Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe) wailing in his wake.
This was top-drawer silliness. And things will presumably get sillier as Tommy confronts his mortality whilst pushing ahead with his plan to inveigle his way into the confidences of Mosley and Nelson – before selling them out to Winston Churchill.
Murphy yet again proved he is an actor who gets better the more absurd the storyline. It’s rare gift and one that would serve Bond well – imagine the world-weariness he could bring to the “shaken not stirred” line. But without his gravitational force, would Peaky Blinders just be a nifty soundtrack in search of a reason to exist?