An epic gangster saga filmed in the Bradford district, with a stellar cast including Hollywood actor Sam Neill, begins on BBC2 this week.

Peaky Blinders is set in 1919 in the slums of post-war Birmingham where returning soldiers, Communist revolutionaries and criminal gangs all fight for survival.

Guns smuggled from the trenches become lethal currency on the streets, traumatised infantrymen drink away their shell-shock in riotous ale houses, and illegal bookmakers profit from speak-easy betting shops.

The drama centres on the Shelby family who make their money from off-track betting, protection and robbery. Their gang is known as the ‘Peaky Blinders’ because they sew razor blades into the peaks of their caps.

Cillian Murphy, whose films include 28 Days Later and Batman Begins, plays gang boss Tommy Shelby, pursued by a ruthless police chief (Sam Neill), sent in to clean up the city.

Filming took place last autumn at locations including Undercliffe Cemetery, Peel Park, the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway and Dalton Mills, Keighley. The Vintage Carriages Trust, which owns Ingrow Museum of Rail Travel, provided carriages and a steam locomotive.

The drama is based on a real gang in Birmingham, comprised of young hoodlums returned from the war.

Writer Steven Knight said: “America is good at mythologising its criminal past, in England we’re not so good. With period drama, we tend to go down the Jane Austen route.

“This is an interesting period; men coming back from the trenches, unemployment, industrial unrest, a rise in communism. It was a time of social tension.”

He was inspired by stories from his family about the race track gangs of the 1920s; his father’s stories gave him “tantalising snapshots” of his uncle’s gang which made big money and wore immaculate clothes.

“Anyone looking at their own family history will find rogues and heroes. This lifts a rock and shows what’s underneath – a hidden history.”

Cillian Murphy said: “The script was unlike anything I’d ever read. As an actor you look for good stories “Audiences are now used to watching things from all over the world; they’re used to style and finesse. There is a great filmic veneer with this – epic set pieces and great lighting.”

The production is the first to receive financial investment from Screen Yorkshire's new £7.5m Yorkshire Content Fund.

Chief executive Sally Joynson said: “It is the type of production we are looking to attract to Yorkshire – big budget, epic storyline and with immense talent involved.”

l Peaky Blinders is on BBC2 on Thursday at 9pm.