"Peaky Blinders" wasn't immediately the big hit it is today. The show first premiered on the BBC in September 2013, prior to making its way onto Netflix (which streams the series in the U.S.) in 2014. A streaming service also meant a larger audience would have the opportunity to witness the crimes of the Shelby family. Indeed, creator Steven Knight believes Netflix played a major role in the show's success, having previously observed, "People in America are willing to watch something set in Birmingham, whereas I don't think that was necessarily true when we started."

"Peaky Blinders" tells the tale of a fictional family of gangsters from Birmingham — the show is inspired by stories Knight heard growing up. The period crime drama heavily mythologizes the city's working-class and takes due time to set up its narrative. As such, it has something of a slow-burn start, which didn't instantly inspire confidence in lead actors Benjamin Zephaniah and Cillian Murphy.

'Is This Going To Work?'

Initially, Benjamin Zephaniah wondered if audiences would come to love a story about gangsters set in Birmingham. In the show, he plays a character named Jeremiah Jesus — a Jamaican-born street preacher who he described as "a slightly off-his-head character" in a 2018 interview with Birmingham Live. Interestingly, the character is based on a real-life personality known as Jimmy Jesus, who fought with a battalion from Birmingham during World War One. Zephaniah's on-screen character is shown to be Tommy Shelby's (Cillian Murphy) friend since fighting alongside him in the war.

Zephaniah admitted to Birmingham Live that he had doubts when he began filming the first season of "Peaky Blinders" in 2013. The series' cast members were nervous about how viewers would respond to the first episode and searched online to see what people were saying after its premiere. There were some complaints about the cast's gruff Birmingham accents, but nothing the actors worried too much about. Zephaniah explained:

"The day we started filming, and the second day and third day it was like 'Is this going to work? Are people going to get this, a gangster thing set in Birmingham?' When the first episode went out, all of us were on the end of the phone, trying to find out how it went down, and looking at Twitter and everything like that."

Cillian Murphy Also Had His Doubts

Benjamin Zephaniah added that as time passed, audiences were moved by the story and the complaints about the show's accents became even less of a concern. The actor said he was very proud of how well-received "Peaky Blinders" ultimately was, stating:

"Some people complained about the accent but it went down well. The BBC warned us that after the first episode people would complain. After the second episode, they would complain a bit less then, by the third episode, they would forget about the accent and be into the story … that's exactly what happened. Nobody talks about the accent now, people talk about the drama and what's happening. It fills me with pride."

In 2019, Zephaniah told Mirror that Cillian Murphy was also unsure the show would ever take off. Zephaniah knew all about the real Peaky Blinders thanks to his interest in Birmingham's "history, in the football clubs, and the factories." Even so, he and Murphy had serious doubts about the show's prospects. Zephaniah recalled:

"I remember sitting down with Cillian and saying that a gangster show set in 1920s Birmingham, we didn't think it was going to take off, really."

Luckily, general audiences and critics alike were quick to take to "Peaky Blinders," allowing both actors to put their worries to rest. The crime drama series arguably tells one of the most compelling gangster tales we've ever seen on television and is teeming with stellar performances. The show has given birth to a cultural phenomenon, and now it seems nobody can get enough of the "Peaky Blinders."

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The post Peaky Blinders' Early Episodes Didn't Inspire Confidence In Benjamin Zephaniah And Cillian Murphy appeared first on /Film.