Peaky Blinders | How Anachronistic Soundtrack Enhances Story



Have you ever wondered why this scene has this particular song playing in the background?

The presence of music in films has become so integral part of art form that we as audience demand it. Music helps to highlight the realism of the visuals.

Filmmakers chose their soundtrack very carefully to evoke certain emotional response as different style of music can completely change the mood of the scene.

A film soundtrack basically refers to music that is created independently from the film itself and is not only associated with it.

Today I want to talk to you about the importance of soundtrack in the acclaimed BBC period drama Peaky Blinders.

Despite being set in the 1920s, the show has a blisteringly cool modern soundtrack. The show runner Steven Knight uses the roaring guitars to depict the rebellious twenties in Birmingham.

This kind of anachronistic use of music is not something new.

Several filmmakers have previously used this trick.

Buz Luhrmann scored his period drama The Great Gatsby (2013) based on F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925 novel with almost every anachronistic pop tunes he can secure the rights to. The soundtrack was co-produced by rap god Jay Z.

But perhaps among all the filmmaker who masterfully executed this trick has to be Quentin Tarantino. Has there ever been a director quite so liberal with his soundtrack choices?

When QT threw a Southern rap track by Rick Ross into the middle of his period blaxploitation Western Django Unchained (2012), the unsuited choice of tune surprised exactly no one.

After all, this is the same guy, who used David Bowie’s “Cat People” in the lead-up to the climax of his revisionist World War II epic Inglorious Bastards (2009).

Peaky Blinders brought a handful of great tunes as a part of its beautifully anachronistic soundtrack. It seems to fit into an interesting sub-genre, a period drama with a post-modern sensibility.

The period details appears to be accurate in most part, the clothes, contemporary historical references, set designing but the script has a self-awareness & a sense of swagger that is strictly 21st century.

This once again demonstrates the extent of Tarantion’s influence on the art form.

The show creates a fascinating world of post World War 1 Birmingham and its people who are trying to coup up with the horrors of the Great War. 

So why does Steven Knight chose modern music to portray the 20th century?

Let’s take a look at Peaky Blinders season 1 and how the anachronistic soundtrack plays its part in intensifying the story.

Each episode of this melodramatic tale of Brummie criminals is set up by the seedy, doom-laden tone of Art rock band Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand”.

The series opens up with its theme song – “The red right Hand”, accompanied by stylishly choreographed visuals. Each introduction sequence is different from the other while referring to various historical, cultural and social references of post World War 1, England.  

The gothic, inherently dangerous melody has a looming, bluesy gait that opens up the show to a vast ocean of possibilities despite its post-World War I setting.

There is lawlessness and to all of the music which echoes the mood of the show beautifully.

The song has a sinister essence to it and is matched by visuals of introducing the mean streets of Birmingham’s industrial heartlands. The mysterious sound of the Aussie band and Cave’s dark poetry comes together as a chilling introduction to the upcoming thrill-ride.

Moving on from an Australian rock band to the Alternative rock melody of American rock duo The White Stripes’ “I Smell a Cat” appears as Inspector Campbell flips through the record of suspected robbers Freddie and Thomas.

This Indie tune elevates the conflict of interest between Thomas, Freddie and Campbell.  It also serves as a prologue of Thomas and Freddie’s relationship, once best mates, but now divided by political consciousness.

The BBC drama focuses around the actions of a gangster family and its consequences. With each episode the level of tension and drama increases. Like the narrative, music also gets intensified.

After Inspector Campbell carries a ruthless raid looking for communists in the absence of the Shelby brothers, Tommy responds by burning pictures of the king. This sequence opens up the power game on which the entire story is based on.

This anarchic sequence is supported by another The White Stripes track “The hardest button to button.

The drum beats and the guitar grunge of this alternative track creates a perfect blend of tension and anticipation which sets up the anarchic reaction by the crooks.

The actual song is about a little boy being ignored by his family and Jack Whites resentful whine mirrors Tommy’s childish response.

As time goes on the issue of the stolen machine guns becomes more important with interest of several parties.

Inspector Campbell arranges another raid after getting information from his undercover agent. In a quest to find the stolen guns he only finds Whisky & cigarettes.

This raid is also backed by another Jack White song.

Like the nature of the raid, the music has also become more aggressive. The grunge-tinged power-pop rock ‘n’ roll sound fit the struggle between the antagonist and the protagonist of the story. The age-old cat & mouse chase is reaching its peak.

“The boy never gets older”

Right at the end of the series finale, Tommy writes to his love, the undercover Irish secret agent gone rough Grace, saying he’ll decide whether to come to New York with her in three days while sipping the champagne she bought.

Tommy is broken, after his unexpected battle with William Kimber and his eventual triumph made his company the third largest legal racetrack operation in the country but at an expense of one of his good friends.

While Tommy wants to be with Grace his family and empire become obstacles.

Meanwhile, Inspector Campbell arrives at the rail station pointing a gun at her.

These explosive moments are backed by Jack White’s equally explosive cover of U2’s classic. White turns the piano-flecked original into a scorched blues rock howl accompanied by fierce guitar frenzy.

It’s not just a random track playing in the background it’s a part of Tommy’s narrative.

So, the next time when you watch your favorite film or TV show, pay close attention to the songs playing in the background and how it elevates the story, maybe without you even noticing.