We’re analyzing the opening 10 minutes of Peaky Blinders.
We’re up to Scene 4 (which is also the Opening Credits scene.)
Let’s get stuck in.
What are we going to discover?
Firstly, that this scene is a brilliant example of showing character through action as we learn 3 characteristics of series protagonist Thomas Shelby.
(You can read the scene in the actual script here.)
There are 4 major actions. I’ve taken the action directly from Steven Knight’s script.
1. Thomas rides through a dark, grimy, industrial street on a beautiful black horse.
Why a black horse rather than a white one?
The website Universe of Symbolism says a black horse is:
A symbol of mystery and intrigue, power, independence, sexual allure and a strong sense of self.
2. Jimmy Jesus – an Afro-Caribbean street preacher – glances up and nods a greeting.
This is from the script. However, on screen he doesn’t nod a greeting, he fully removeshis hat from his head – showing both social distance and reverence (more on this later).
3. Thomas slows to allow a line of men to cross the road. (These are men blinded in the war, now begging for pennies.) Thomas leans down in the saddle to drop a coin into their bowl.
Interesting phrase Steven Knight uses here – leans down. He could have just written ‘he drops a coin in their bowl.’ But he doesn’t. He says he leans down. When Thomas leans down he is equating himself with these beggars, showing humility.
So why show humility to a group of men who were blinded in the war and now begging ‘for pennies’? Does Thomas share an affinity with the beggars?
4. Two policemen see Thomas. They both look nervous and touch their caps. Thomas ignores them and urges his horse on.
This action of touching your hat is called a hat tip.
Check out what Wikipedia has to say about it:
In Western societies of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a hat tip was a common non-verbal greeting between friends or acquaintances. Typically, two men would lift or tip their hats to each other.
But Thomas doesn’t lift or tip his hat. This is not to each other.
Where the ritual was used to emphasize social distance the subordinate was obliged to make the more elaborate gesture, for example fully removing his hat while the superior merely touched his.
Who fully removes his hat? Jimmy Jesus – the street preacher. Jimmy’s full removal of his hat shows social distance. As well as showing reverence he is admitting to Thomas that he is his subordinate. Jimmy’s preaching echoes this social distance:
God does not care if you live in a slum or in a mansion.
Back to the policemen then. Not only does Thomas not tip his hat to them, he doesn’t even respond. Steven Knight makes a point of this:
Thomas ignores them.
So why do the police look nervous? And why do they tip their hats? Isn’t Thomas Shelby a criminal? Why are the police tipping their hats to him? The fact that Thomas doesn’t tip his hat reveals a lot. Wikipedia says:
The subordinate was obliged to make the more elaborate gesture…
But Thomas doesn’t even touch his hat, let alone make a more ‘elaborate gesture.’ He doesn’t make any gesture. As Steven Knight states:
He ignores them.
So Thomas doesn’t see himself as subordinate to the police. And if he’s not subordinate, he must consider himself as above them. Does Thomas consider himself above the police? Above the law?
But isn’t this pride?
Summing up then, in addition to the power, independence and sexual allure symbolized by the black horse, which 3 characteristics of Thomas Shelby are we shown through action?
I suggest respect, humility and pride.
Will his pride be his downfall?
This visual, opening credits scene ends around 3.57 and we get the title credit: