How did we get here? It feels as though Peaky Blinders has just become a massive hit and already fans are preparing for what’s to come in the sixth and final season. While the show has had a few minor disappointments, such as Jordan Bolger leaving, it’s mostly been an enormous success. This is a great thing for Netflix who have reaped all the benefits from this global sensation. But it’s even better for the BBC and Steven Knight, who spearheaded this anti-period piece period piece.
So much of Peaky Blinders was inspired by Steven’s experiences growing up in Birmingham and the stories he was told of the real-life Peaky Blinders. On paper, the idea of the series is a no-brainer. But the truth is, it actually took a while to find its footing in the eyes of the audience. Here’s how the show went from a cult favorite to a global sensation.
Why Wasn’t Peaky Blinders Popular From The Start?
Actors… it’s all about the actors. Yes, the writing is excellent on Peaky Blinders. As is pretty much everything else including the remarkably set dec, iconic costumes and hairstyles, and the anti-period piece music. But it’s the fact that Peaky Blinders was so successful at attracting massively popular and talented actors that really sold it to the audience. After all, who could deny the talents of Cillian Murphy, the late Helen McCroy, Anya Taylor Joy, Sam Neill, Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen, and, of course, Tom Hardy?
But what good is a great cast if audiences can’t locate the show? People in England could, but around the world… not as much. At least, not at first.
According to a fantastic oral history of Peaky Blinders by Esquire, the show first premiered in September 2013 after blowing half of its budget before the filming of the first season was completed. Steven Knight had BBC Two were very worried about how it was going to be received. While the show was quality television from the start, no one was jumping for joy with it. At least, nobody except for a group of die-hard fans. These fans managed to get the show a second season, one that was inspired by The Godfather Part 2. And it was this season that really started to get the die-hard fans pumped up.
How And Why Peaky Blinders Became So Popular
Fans really became hardcore with Peaky Blinders when the third season premiered in 2017. The first couple of seasons averaged about 3 million viewers on BBC Two. Of course, this jumped dramatically by the 5th season in 2019, when the show found a home on the far more popular BBC One. At that point, Netflix had backed it (thanks to a worldwide deal done with The Weinstein Company) and the word of mouth was energetic.
There’s no doubt that the die-hard fans are the reason the show really found its way to Netflix and everyone who can’t get enough of gangster shows and Cillian Murphy. These fans had started Peaky Blinders-themed parties and even started to dress like the characters after the first two seasons aired on BBC Two. People took notice. And then things became a full-on trend.
“I think the biggest shock for me was when I got a call from Snoop Dogg,” creator Steven Knight told Esquire. “And he said he’s in London, he wants to talk about Peaky Blinders. Now, it’s not somebody who I would have thought has an instant connection to Birmingham in the Twenties. But I met him and we sat together for three hours and talked about it, and he was saying it had become very popular in south-central parts of New York and Hispanic communities. I thought, how has this happened?”
“I remember sitting in a pub and it was late afternoon, it was quite quiet. And in walked – no word of a lie – about 40 men dressed as Peaky Blinders on a stag do. They walked straight past, absolutely no idea I was in the show. I should’ve bought the groom a drink,” Sophie Rundle, who plays Ada Shelby said.
There was even a hotdog stand (called “Porky Blinders”) that set up in High Street in Manchester, and many, many Peaky Blinders-themed bars. The cats and crew of the show started seeing their faces tattooed on people’s bodies and everyone was asking for the “Peaky cut” at hair salons and barbershops. Fans made this show so in everyone’s faces that they had no choice but to track it down and watch
By the time the fourth season rolled around, Peaky Blinders became the full-on gangster show that Steven dreamed of. And this made it even more popular in the press. And once they started to buzz about it, viewers wanted to track the show down and binge-watch the first few seasons. Thanks to Netflix making it so available, fans being lunatics when it came to their dedication, the recognizable cast, and the trajectory of the story, Peaky Blinders became a global sensation. One that is either ending far too soon or is straight-up going out on top.