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Writing for TV: Peaky Blinders Pilot

What better show to analyze for writing than Peaky Blinders? If you don’t know, Peaky Blinders is a British period crime drama television series crafted by Steven Knight and is set in Birmingham. It chronicles the endeavors of the Peaky Blinders crime syndicate in the immediate aftermath of World War I. This fictitious gang draws inspiration from a real urban youth gang bearing the same name, active in the city from the 1880s through the 1910s.


The show boasts an impressive ensemble cast, with Cillian Murphy taking on the role of Tommy Shelby, Helen McCrory portraying Elizabeth "Polly" Gray, Paul Anderson as Arthur Shelby, Sophie Rundle as Ada Shelby, and Joe Cole as John Shelby, the gang's prominent members.


Joining this talented lineup are Sam Neill, Annabtelle Wallis, Iddo Goldberg, Tom Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Finn Cole, Natasha O'Keeffe, Paddy Considine, Adrien Brody, Aidan Gillen, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sam Claflin, Amber Anderson, James Frecheville, and Stephen Graham.


The series initially premiered on September 12, 2013, airing on BBC Two until its fourth season (with occasional repeats on BBC Four), after which it migrated to BBC One for the fifth and sixth seasons.


Netflix secured the rights to broadcast the show in the United States and worldwide. In January 2021, it was announced that the sixth season would mark the conclusion of the series, followed by a spin-off film, and the final season graced screens in 2022. So, what can we learn from the show and its pilot as writers? Let’s discuss it!

Still from 'Peaky Blinders'. Photo credit: IMDb


Compelling Central Character


Every great show centers on having an incredible main character, making it nearly impossible to sell a script without one. In this case, Peaky Blinders has Thomas Shelby, portrayed by Cillian Murphy, who occasionally strikes terror into the hearts of foes, friends, and even his own family.


His steely thousand-mile stare, ruthless approach to business, and meticulously devised plans captivate viewers. The Shelby family's saga embodies the archetypal gangster narrative—a small-time player striving to transition into a legitimate world, leaving behind extortion and criminality in favor of lawful prosperity.


Tommy occupies the space between a sociopath and a psychopath, embodying self-reliance and unwavering confidence, pitting his family against a slew of formidable adversaries in his relentless pursuit of power and status.


The character is a formidable force not to be trifled with, akin to Tony Soprano or Vito Corleone, but even more hands-on and direct in his pursuit. He stands as the anti-hero worth rooting for–a man fiercely protective of his family, a brilliant strategist always one step ahead of his rivals.


Making the Audience Want More


Peaky Blinders sets it up for success from the jump by making the audience want more. Whether it’s the fake death of Danny, the tension between the Italians, or the situation with the gun sales, a lot makes you want to follow the show.


In your creative endeavor, contemplate the inclusion of a pivotal character making a last-minute entrance, the revelation that someone presumed deceased is, in fact, alive, or a character harboring a dark secret that turns out to have a valid reason for their silence. Thrillers and crime dramas excel in employing such twists.


This series unfolds within a captivating world, adding an extra layer of intrigue for writers. When crafting your script, aim to conclude it in a manner that leaves the audience pondering, "What comes next?" The desire for more should always linger in the viewers' minds, driving their curiosity and anticipation.


What Makes it Interesting?


No matter how plain you want your story, developing an exciting plot is best. For example, with Peaky Blinders, the story being set in the U.K. after World War I is enough for people to check it out. It’s an intriguing world that offers something different and isn’t all that familiar.


However, remember to distinguish your script from a literary piece since it offers the audience a real-time visual experience of the unfolding story. While lengthy conversations with clever dialogue may appear impressive in writing, they can translate into dull and unengaging scenes on screen.


To enhance the viewer's experience, incorporate vivid visual descriptions of what is happening on the screen. Infuse your settings and actions with elements that captivate and intrigue, ensuring that every moment is as visually stimulating as possible.


Furthermore, captivating an audience is challenging with an excessively lengthy script. As a general guideline, one script page typically translates to approximately one minute of screen or stage time in screenwriting and playwriting.


To capture the interest of producers and captivate the audience, it's advisable to aim for movie and play scripts of around 100 pages. Television scripts, on the other hand, can vary in length, spanning from 30 minutes to 80 minutes, depending on the specific duration of the episode. Peaky Blinders excels at crafting an exciting story in a format that keeps it going without feeling dull.

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