“The Peaky Blinders are confronted with something that’s darker than anything they’ve come across so far”
At long last, the return of Peaky Blinders is almost upon us. Series five will hit our screens once more on BBC One on Sunday August 25, picking up the drama with Birmingham’s most infamous crime family facing the impact of the 1929 stock market crash as well as the rise of fascism, as their leader Tommy Shelby navigates the corridors of power as a newly-elected MP.
As the Shelby clan prepare to square up to their enemies once again, we sat down with the cast and crew to guide us through what season five has in store…
Cillian Murphy, plays Tommy Shelby: “Tommy is his own worst enemy”
“It’s always chockfull of surprises for Tommy. Steven Knight is a brilliantly unpredictable writer, in the best sense of the word. It’s such a gift to have that quality of writing. If you’ve got an incredibly well-written script then you’ve got a good place to start and you’ve just go to share that and elevate it through your portrayal and execution.
“We’re dealing more here with Tommy’s mental state. It has been looked at previously, but not in as great detail as this series does. He’s quite fragile when we meet him. Well, that’s an understatement. You saw it in the beginning of series one, and then less so as he started to become more and more successful. The threats were always exterior threats from different gangs and personalities, but now it seems like he’s his own worst enemy.”
Anthony Byrne, director: “It’s really a study of Tommy’s psyche”
“We open on October 29, 1929, and it’s the morning of the Wall Street Crash. The Shelbys have lost a lot of money that they’d invested over in the US. It’s also the beginnings of the rise of fascism and the introduction of Oswald Mosley as the antagonist. We find Tommy Shelby in a really dark place and it’s really a study of his psyche.
“The last season was a gangster payoff gift to the audience of having loads of shootouts, which was a lot of fun. This series was an opportunity to go back to the set-up that Steven Knight gave us in the first season and to go back to the inner workings of Tommy Shelby and what drives him and what haunts him. The show has evolved and it can’t repeat itself. Shooting, actions and fights are fun to do, but it’s more interesting to do that kind of character work and have those conversations with Cillian, because it’s his character really.”
“The politics are pretty overt. It’s there. It’s not done in a preachy way and you’re not walloped over the head with it. But the financial crash and the rise of fascism reflects a lot of what we’re dealing with now in 2019.”
Steven Knight, writer: “The Peaky Blinders are confronted with something that’s darker than anything they’ve come across so far”
“This is Tommy and the other members of the cast at a crossroads. They’re confronted with something that’s darker than anything they’ve come across so far with the rise of fascism. Are they going to go with it or fight against it?
“This is part of the redemption of Tommy that started when he returned from the First World War. He was totally switched off and was unable to connect with humanity and the world and he’s been slowly coming back to life. Now he’s confronting an evil that makes him decide if he’s good or if he’s bad.
“The destination for the whole show has always been the start of the Second World War, so the show is the story of the family between the wars. I really want to end it with Tommy being alright. I want Tommy to be good and on the side of the angels. There’s a lesson to be learned and it will have an optimistic message, but there’s a lot of darkness to go through yet.
“I’d like to pretend that I’m some kind of clairvoyant, but Peakys and its stories have been like this all the way through – whenever it is set seems to have a resonance with now. In these years when season five is set, it was the rise of nationalism, populism and racism on an extraordinary scale. What surprised me when I was doing the research was that the phrases and language used was the same. People may think that I’ve inserted modern phrases into the dialogue, but I haven’t. It was exactly the same. We all know how it ended and let’s hope that history is not repeating itself.”
“The female characters have always been powerful. I’ve always found it weird that it has been commented upon. It’s just looking at the world. When I grew up, women ran everything. This is just a reflection of how the balance and the dynamic was at that time.”
Helen McRory, plays Polly Gray: “The women are starting to draw parameters”
“In this series you start seeing the women around the Peaky Blinders starting to draw parameters. With the men, they feel like everything is boundless and limitless. You know, ‘I’m going to go there, I’m going to do what I want, etc’. That’s very attractive and wonderful, but it’s a total fucking fantasy. The women are saying, ‘No you can’t, because you’ll get my son’s fucking head cut off if you do that’, or ‘you’ll never see this if you do that’. There are some wonderful scenes in the writing that Steve has with Tommy coming back to the son and the children telling you how it is. Polly’s also trying to stop Michael and Tommy from killing each other, plus romance is in the air.”
“You’ve had Polly worried about her son Michael in the past with what he sees, what he doesn’t see, what he does and doesn’t get involved in. Now, it’s happening to Tommy. These are things that happen as you get older. The Peakys are wondering about what legacy they’re going to leave behind. You know, ‘Who am I going to be for my children?’ If you’re behaving like a prick then it becomes a bit more serious because you realise that the likelihood is your son is going to be a prick as well. People often have a lot of self-loathing, but we don’t know if our children do. Your whole self changes for the next generation, and women are a part of that.
“Steve talks about it ending with the start of the Second World War. I’d like it to finish with, unlike in the First World War where Polly held a position that was going to end as soon as it was over, that Polly will be in a position where that continues.
“One of the successes of Peaky is that its set at the time of the germs of our society now. That’s why it speaks so well to everyone. The struggles that are happening around these people were real. Men came back from the war, God was dead, the government was dead, and something needed to replace it. They replaced it with pop culture and new icons. The women started turning round to the men and saying, ‘These are the limits’. You see that in this series. There’s also a sexual freedom. Mentally, women having parity with men and fucking just because they wanted to, that started around here.”
Harry Kirton, plays Finn Shelby: “There are boots to be filled, but Finn is more interested in tailoring his own”
“In season five, the doors that have been opened for the others see them going into politics and other cities. This has fully provided Finn with the ability to explore his own city. That mark of being Shelby has pushed Finn to really explore what he wants.
“He’s got his own friends, one of his brothers has died, his others are doing this, that and the other, and now he wants to prove to himself more than anyone else that he is a gangster. He has that fire that comes with being a Shelby but also that heart and curiosity that he’s always had.
“Season five is a bit of a madness, but it’s taken on a whole new character and tone. Thanks to the writing, the director and even me trying to bring a bigger flavour to Finn as I become more experienced and I grow, there’s just a lot more to take in. There’s always a lot that happens in Peaky Blinders, with various storylines etc, but now Finn has space to find himself.”
“This season, you see a change in Finn as a person. There’s a pressure that’s now been put onto him through circumstances. He’s never been to war, like his brothers have and there’s always been that gap. One of the Shelbys is dead and that rings on his mind a lot. Finn has the biggest heart because he hasn’t been through what his brothers have, but he’s been living their lifestyle. I’m sniffing bags of cocaine, I’m sipping whiskey and I’ve been doing that since I was 13. It’s nothing new, but everything takes a toll. It all adds up and now Finn wants to close ranks with his brothers to prove that he does belong on the front line.
“There are boots that need to be filled, but Finn is more interested in tailoring his own. He wants to step out on his own, but he’s also never going to stop having the guidance of his brothers, sisters, aunties and uncles. Their relationships get closer and open new pages, to the point where Finn learns more than what it is to be a gangster. He learns how to be a man.”
Finn Cole, plays Michael Gray: “Michael genetically has the potential to be a Peaky Blinder”
“Michael comes back to the family after the stock market crash, and he is there to help recuperate some of that and figure out the next step. Michael is among the younger generation of the Peakys and he’s always got an eye to the future and that’s the direction he’s going in. That’s what he wants from this season.
“He’s suffering from PTSD in his own right. He hasn’t grown up with a family, this is the first time he’s been in a family for 18 years and is coming to terms with where he fits in – but he also genetically has the potential to be a Peaky Blinder.”
Sophie Rundle, plays Ada Thorne: “Women fucking run the show”
“Season five is what you want it to be. It just doesn’t give a shit. Part of that comes from the women. ’Strong’ seems like such a modern buzzword. It implies that women aren’t typically strong. Culturally, women have been victims of the patriarchy when it comes to representation. I don’t know any women that are weak, boring, meek or mild – particularly in a family dynamic. Women fucking run the show.
“They’ve gotta give birth to a few kids and then go to work. They’re fucking strong, all of them are. The difference is how we represent them. These types of women aren’t unusual. Steven Knight has always been good at giving a platform to those types of characters and showing them how they are. It’s not just about having the wife or the mum or the aunt who aren’t very interesting and you’re always wondering what the mean are doing.”
“I like the trajectory that Ada is on at the moment. I love that she has grown up with the show and tried out all of these different versions of herself to come back to this realisation that you can’t escape your family. She positioned herself in this role as a protector but she’s also got some independence. I’d like to see her continue to use her brain. She’s one of the smart Shelbys. This is where she is a victim of that time because she wasn’t able to have the career that Tommy had.”
Jamie Glazebrook, Executive Producer: “This series is more of a political thriller”
“Steve keeps it fresh by changing the genre a bit every time. The first series really was more like a Western – we’re in bars with gun-toting and horses. The second one goes proper gangster, the third sees them in country houses plotting others’ downfall in a country far away, the fourth was guns and ammo and this one’s more of a political thriller – it goes to some really dark places in the head.
“Each series has always been reflective of something. The first series showed so many people coming back from the war and not being looked after. That’s what the whole show is about in a sense. Steve just finds these perennials to write about. Students of history will know all the interesting places where this series is going, but for those who don’t it will be very exciting and quite a surprise.
“Oswald Mosley is depicted as the most wonderful character. The power of charisma is definitely a perennial. Tommy is charismatic too. Whenever there is chaos, we all look for the proverbial man on the horse. Our very first photos of Tommy where of him on a horse for that reason: ‘I’m a bad guy, but I’m leading you’. We see those all over the world now. They promise to restore the greatness of wherever they’re from. Mosley is one of those.”
Caryn Mandabach, executive producer: “A hard is gonna fall”
“We last left the story with him becoming a politician who has two girls and a baby walking behind him. He puts a gun in his trousers and Bob Dylan sings “a hard rain’s gonna fall”. So what’s your clue? You know as much as you need to know from that.”
“The new cast members have been brilliant. I did make Sam Claflin kiss me. Anya Taylor Joy is so great because she plays an American. I love hearing the American perspective. They’re all going for it. They’re all heightened, like how Adrien Brody wanted to have a toothpick in the last season. They’re all there for the entertainment value.
“The difference with Peaky is that we’re watching a person, not a plot. The person will change through time – especially if there’s a context that keeps changing. Like what we have here: sometimes we marry, our wife gets killed and then we marry someone else. Sometimes our brothers disappoint us. Sometimes the love goes away. We look at people like we look at ourselves.
“Sometimes I feel like Tommy Shelby. His thinking has affected my thinking. He’s both strategising and using tactics to get to that point. I’ve learned how to be a better leader because of Tommy Shelby. The best leader is the least predictable. Right now, Tommy doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, so a hard rain is gonna fall. Unless you’ve got your shit together then you’re cruising for a bruising.”
Peaky Blinders will premiere on Sunday August 25 at 9pm on BBC One. Check out everything else we know about season five here.