Express & Star

A tour-de-force of colour, music and violence: Our review of the first episode of new Steven Knight drama This Town

What seems like a quiet walk down an alleyway turns into a violent world of fire, batons and riots, writes James Vukmirovic.

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That's what faces Dante Williams as, while walking in a heartbroken daze, he stumbles into riots on the streets of Lozells in 1981, jolted from his lovelorn funk by the smell of Molotov cocktails and the sudden realisation he's in a place of danger.

This marks the start of the latest creation by Peaky Blinders writer Steven Knight, with This Town being touted as his love letter to the region which raised him.

Carrying all the hallmarks of Knight's work, from the strong characters to the vivid and strong imagery to a remarkable soundtrack, This Town hits you immediately between the eyes with a bombardment of violence, anger and determination to not be the norm.

Dante's love woes can be heard in voiceover as he talks of his love, life and ambitions and the prose he ponders as he writes his poetry, aspiring to be a wordsmith.

Along the way, as he escapes from the police, he encounters his friend Jeannie Keefe, who may have been involved in the rioting and may be involved in other nefarious activities which she isn't shy of telling Dante about.

The opening scene sees Dante walk into a dangerous situation

The first episode quickly establishes who the characters are, from the somewhat naive, but well-intention Dante to the more outspoken Jeannie who has creative ambitions of her own with music, while also having what appears to be rebellious and, perhaps, criminal habits as well.

You are also introduced to Bardon Quinn in Coventry, first seen winning an Irish dancing competition, but also wary of his Northern Irish father Eamon, who keeps drawing Bardon into activities and work which are for the betterment of "the cause", implied to be within the Irish Nationalist movement of the early 1980s.

You can feel Bardon's desire to do something better with his life, but also pressured into helping his overbearing father, and that conflict for him is matched by the worries of his grandmother, who wants Bardon to do the right thing.

Speaking of Northern Ireland, we are also introduced to Dante's brother Gregory, who is a member of the paramilitary force in Belfast during the troubles, dealing with rioting and troubles himself.

As with Bardon Quinn, you sense a real conflict with him and almost a desire to be in a different place, highlighted by walking out into an open area unarmed to reflect on the air, with even being shot out not taking him out of his reverie.

The opening scenes capture the violence of the era. Photo: Banijay Rights/Kudos,Robert Viglasky

Gregory, alongside his brother, seems to approach the world in a different way, wishing the world could just sing together, something that doesn't go down well with his superiors, left bemused by his unpredictable and bizarre behaviour.

As the episode goes along, you are greeted by striking images, from the smashed up streets of Lozells (although you might recognise the area if you live in a certain city) to the tower block estates of Birmingham and Coventry and the snaking motorway sections which wrap around the outskirts of Birmingham.

Alongside that is a soundtrack full of music fitting the area, from Ska to Reggae to pop and funk and the overriding soundtrack of the episode "You Can Get It If You Really Want" by Jimmy Cliffe, sung by Bardon while forced to work by his dad as an act of rebellion and a song which appears regularly.

We get moments that establish characters and link them together, with Dante returning a stolen spacesuit to club owner Robbie Carmen, a man with a sinister feeling from the first time you see him and who openly admits to taking a finger from one of the rioters that smashed up his club.

Jeanie and Dante are linked together in the first episode through music and words. Photo: Banijay Rights/Kudos,Robert Viglasky

Dante, however, has no fear as his brother Gregory used to work there as a doorman and faces down Carmen, who seems impressed by Dante's courage and even offers him work, leaving a future interaction up in the air.

Another interaction which leaves more in the locker is Dante's journey to the record store his love interest Fiona works at and where we learn more about how he asked her out, but was rebuffed and ended up in the daze that led him to Lozells in the first place.

You feel a lingering tension between the two, with Dante saying that his love of Leonard Cohen runs deeper than just as something to dance to, more a way to really understand the words, while Fiona tries to appear cool and disengaged, but you sense she maybe sees more in Dante than she's letting on.

Underpinning the cool vibe, vivid imagery, period clothing and strong characterisation is an undercurrent of menace and tragedy, with Bardon, Dante and Gregory all left facing loss at the end of the episode.

For Bardon, it's the loss of his grandmother, who we see confronted by a member of the Northern Irish movement and warned, in so many words, not to interfere in their activities, then appearing to suffer a heart attack, while Bardon himself is left struggling to feel a future that doesn't involve his domineering father.

You can feel the tension between Dante and Fiona as they talk music and life. Photo: Banijay Rights/Kudos,Robert Viglasky

In the case of Gregory and Dante, we don't see their grandmother, but learn of her passing through the Army and Dante's father respectively, something which hits both hard.

The conflict and anger in Dante is clear, struggling with his grief and almost considering ending it all, but Jeannie's intervention sets the scene for what is to come.

Full of colour, passion and intensity, the first episode of This Town sets the scene for a wild journey through race relations, music, violence and togetherness.