As the fourth season of Peaky Blinders hits screens, we spoke to star Cillian Murphy and creator Steven Knight about the things that make the gritty British gangster epic essential viewing.
On making Birmingham look cool
The first thing you notice about the show is that it looks like nothing else on British TV. Shot mainly in Liverpool and Manchester, but set in Birmingham shortly after World War I, Peaky Blinders doesn’t go for grit and grimness, but shoots for a sort of sooty glamour. It looks like an HBO flagship on a BBC budget. “Americans seem happy to take something that happens on the streets [where they live] and turn it into mythology, where the British don’t,” says Knight. Adds Murphy, “We wanted to create this [place] that’s a world of working-class people, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be glamorous. We wanted to get in the ring with those big shows and compete on a much smaller budget.”
On making anti-lice haircuts popular
If you know nothing else about the show, you probably at least know that it features some very well-dressed men doing horrible things in lovely suits and sharp haircuts. “That haircut we have,” laughs Murphy of the shaved sides, long top look, “that was a lice cut. It was to avoid infestation… Now it’s become very recognisable because people wear it today. The suits have a classic silhouette… My favourite part of the costuming is Tommy’s cap worn very low. It’s kind of like Batman with his cowl.”
On fighting like you mean it
It’s a rare episode of Peaky Blinders that doesn’t feature someone getting beaten to mush or rendered extremely leaky by a hail of bullets. “The fights aren’t choreographed to make us look like amazing martial arts guys,” says Murphy. “They’re ugly and bloody and nasty. There are consequences to them. People get f**ked up by them.”
As the show’s gone on and the stakes have risen, the fights have become more brutal. The first episode of series four features some particularly nasty business with a butcher’s hook.
On Hollywood guest stars
The main cast of Peaky Blinders isn’t wanting for big names – Cillian Murphy and Helen McCrory, to name two – but its guest star game is exceptional. In previous series we’ve seen Sam Neill as a Northern Irish detective with a wandering accent, Paddy Considine as a dodgy priest and Tom Hardy (who appears again this season) as the highly eccentric leader of a Jewish gang. Season four is invaded by Game Of Thrones’ Aiden Gillen as hard-as-nails gypsy Aberama Gold, described by Knight as “the man you go to when you’re in trouble”, and Oscar-winner Adrien Brody as Luca Changretta, a Mafia don who’s come all the way from New York to Birmingham to kill the whole Shelby clan. “He’s a whole different level of nemesis,” says Murphy. “You get actors of that calibre wanting to come and play because the writing’s so good… You can’t just parachute in ‘celebrities’. They have tobe the perfect choice.”
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On music that snaps Peaky Blinders into the present day
Despite being set in the 1920s, Peaky Blinders features modern music, using artists such as Radiohead, PJ Harvey and David Bowie to highly atmospheric effect. “I’m a bit of a music geek,” says Murphy. “When PJ Harvey worked on series with [producer] Flood and they created this amazing, beautiful score, that was a highlight. And she did a cover of ‘Red Right Hand’ [the show’s theme by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds], which was incredibly special… It’s been kind of pinch-yourself stuff.”
Even if you never watch it, you should buy the soundtrack. But you should absolutely be watching it.
Peaky Blinders returns to BBC Two on November 15