Tommy Shelby is terrifying. He is a gangster, a brilliantly ruthless businessman, and the unquestionable head of his famous, formidable family. When he walks, arms to the side making his 5'9 frame seem twice that large, wherever he’s headed, you’re glad it’s not to see you. His whisper is more frightening than a large man’s raised voice. He is not to be trifled with. But when Alfie Solomons is in the room, Tommy Shelby barely exists.
Alfie Solomons is a character in Peaky Blinders played, until recently, by Tom Hardy. Tommy Shelby is portrayed by the magnificently gifted Cillian Murphy whose name, thanks to an Irish friend, I now actually know how to pronounce. Wielding cockney ramblings with the precision and skill of Top Chef winner, Tom Hardy is the only English speaking character I’ve ever required subtitles for. He is a distiller of rum, a genius negotiator, and a vicious gangster.
Also he’s a Jew.
I don’t know why, but there is something belly laughable about the way Alfie Solomons wears clothing. Like he could just stand there in costume, saying nothing, and I’d applaud while wiping tears from my eyes and trying to explain to my friends what’s so funny. Alfie’s synagogue-going wide brimmed black hat, which seems to get wider each season, and long white scarf, which I assume is meant to evoke thoughts of a prayer shawl, are as much a part of his personality as his wit.
Also he’s little insane.
Volatility an unpredictability are the juiciest cuts of Solomons steak. There is no way to predict what he’ll do or reveal next, and really it’s much more fun if you don’t try. His behavior is a negotiation tactic in itself–one is so engrossed in animation and strangeness of behavior that you don’t have time to notice he’s tied your shoelaces together. I’ve never understood if Alfie was meant to be a villain or comedic foil or some pick-a-mix of both, but I’ve never loved every second of someone’s screen time more.
Alfie’s scenes are long, dialogue-heavy, and handcrafted almost as mantlepieces in his honor. Each word seems to be chosen specifically for Tom Hardy’s expert ability to deliver it. How you make someone hilarious and genuinely scary at the same time I’ll never know, but they’ve done it. It’s almost as if Peaky Blinders takes little breaks and briefly becomes The Alfie Show.
The uniqueness and layering in Alfie’s character remind me a bit of a most beloved Omar from The Wire. Both characters are unique to their surroundings and are impossible not to watch, and then rewatch again. They also have that fear-inducing, boundary-free morality that keeps you so far on the edge of your sofa that you’re basically sitting on the coffee table.
So much of Alfie’s on-screen potency comes from the building of his story over time. From his military and personal history to his charming attachment to Tommy’s brother Arthur, Alfie doesn’t waste a moment, not even one line, in folding more butter into his dough. To some degree this can be said of every character Tom Hardy’s ever played (except Ricki Tarr, which I didn’t feel did him any justice), he’s never not the sun in the center of the orbit.
Around series four, the show caught on that we wanted lots more Alfie. They gave it to us, then they ripped the tallis right out from under our feet. If they gave Emmy’s for the best five minutes of television produced all year, the conversation between Alfie Solomons and Luca Changretta (played by Adrian Brody, because the Peaky Blinders gods hadn’t blessed us enough, you know), the pair’s first and last meeting, is the stuff of gold statues. The scene I reference in the image here is one of the only scenes I know of that merits watching a full four seasons of a show in order to appreciate it.
It’s a remarkable feat, going up against the head of the Shelby family and turning him into the shy type. Tom Hardy’s Alfie Solomons turned scene stealing into priceless, black market art, but given the writing, I’m fairly sure that was the point.
I have recommended Peaky Blinders to everyone I know who loves good storytelling. Not one of them has taken me up on my offer. The show has long been, particularly in the U.S., the most underrated show on television. But there are some of you who get it, who are savvy enough to appreciate such criminal mastery, and so in parting, I leave you with my personal favorite Alfie Solomons moment. Shalom.