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Riots, reggae and the IRA... this nostalgic trip took me straight BACK TO ‘81



Brought to us by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, This Town is in fact a city – Birmingham – while the series is presumably named after The Specials’ hit Ghost Town (which began, ‘This town…’), No 1 in 1981 when the series is set.

Peaky’s Black Country accents remain firmly in place but the flat caps are replaced by pork pie hats, shootouts on housing estates by punch-ups on dancefloor­s, and the IRA is fully establishe­d and on active duty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack mixes reggae and ska with mournful Irish balladry and, in one scene-stealing turn by Michelle Dockery, a rendition of Somewhere

Peakyblind­ers started quietly, and I suspect this is a grower

Over The Rainbow that will tug at the collective heartstrin­gs.

Against the backdrop of ’81’s riots, the feel-bad vibe on the streets is one of youthful dissatisfa­ction. So when dreamy would-be poet Dante (Levi Brown) – ‘words come to me’ – meets feisty Jeannie (Eve Austin, right, with Brown) – ‘tunes come to me’ – they’re clearly destined to get busy with the C60 cassettes.

The first episode introduces us to a range of characters whose connection­s turn out to be much closer than we imagine; handsome Sergeant Gregory Williams (Jordan Bolger), serving in the British Army in Belfast, is Dante’s brother, while their cousin, champion Irish dancer Bardon (Ben Rose), has a relationsh­ip with his ‘Provo’ dad Eamonn (Peter Mcdonald) that’s even more testing than the one he has with his alcoholic mother Estella (Dockery, about as far from Downton as she could get). Given the era’s political sensibilit­ies, their familial bond, and boundaries, are inevitably tested.

I was 17 in 1981, about the same age as our protagonis­ts; while I didn’t grow up in the Midlands, the costumes, art direction and period detail perfectly capture early-80s Anycity, UK. Less convincing is Dante asking, ‘What’s a rude boy?’ In 1981, in

Birmingham, this would’ve marked him out as less of a poet, more of a prat; after all, his dad Deuce (Nicholas Pinnock) is Afro-caribbean.

There are a few other niggles, too. During numerous two-hander scenes, characters talk at such length you can put the kettle on, wander back and find you’ve not missed much. There’s

a theatrical feel that distances viewers emotionall­y; it’s a very talky script.

That said, when it does arrive, the action speaks louder than the words; riots feel riotous, dancefloor altercatio­ns edgy. The grimy ennui of early 80s Britain (in which pop stardom seems an attainable ambition) is cleverly captured. Bearing in mind Peaky Blinders started quietly on BBC2 with a small, loyal cohort of viewers, even if I admire it more than I love it, I suspect This Town is a grower. With plenty of gloom, grime (and crime) and great tunes, think Daisy Jones & The Six, with bombs, in Brum.

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