Get ready Peaky Blinders fans: The fifth series is finally here, and there’s plenty of drama, violence and intrigue in store. Georgia Humphreys chats to its writer to find out more.
The year is 1929, and the world has been thrown into turmoil by the financial crash. It’s a time of both opportunity and misfortune for the feared and powerful Peaky Blinders gang.
Its leader, Tommy Shelby MP is approached by a charismatic politician with a bold vision for Britain - and there you have it: the setting for series five of Steven Knight’s crime family saga, which has been so successful it has now moved from BBC Two to BBC One.
The drama, the debut series of which became the first production to benefit from a Screen Yorkshire fund to establish the region as a key player in the TV and film industry, last aired eighteen months ago and it would be a massive understatement to say expectations are high.
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At the end of the fourth series, the Shelby gang’s feud with a New York Sicilian mafioso came to blows, changing the family’s lives forever.
It also led to more Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for former soldier Tommy (played by Cillian Murphy). So, how is the flat cap-wearing, chain-smoking gang boss different this series?
“In a way, he’s starting to thaw out, feel things again,” explains Brummie Knight, 60. “The acts that he did of charity, but for a cynical reason, have gradually become real.
“He’s slowly discovering that he’s always been a good man doing bad things for a good reason. Maybe. But maybe not - you can look at it and say you can’t justify his actions.”
The writer, whose other credits include TV series Taboo, adds: “In series 5 he’s haunted by things he’s done in the past. But I always try to put into context that, whatever bad he’s done since WW1, during the war, at the request of commanding officers, 6-8,000 people were being killed per hour. That’s where the moral compass got destroyed and now, he’s basically trying to piece it together.”
Now that Tommy is a politician - last series he was elected as Labour MP for Birmingham South - we see him heading down to Westminster. There, he meets a new character and real-life historical figure Oswald Mosley MP (played by Sam Claflin).
As for what’s in store politically, Knight notes “it’s quite bizarre how Peaky, whatever period I’m writing in, seems to have a spooky connection to what’s going on at the time”.
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“Never more so than with series five where, politically, it’s the early 1930s - there is nationalism, populism, racism sweeping across the Western world,” he continues. “That’s just fortuitous for me - terrible for the world - in that what I’m writing feels to have a direct connection to the way things are going at the moment.”
You’d think Helen McCrory, who plays Aunt Polly, the matriarch of the family, would be used to the brutality of the family’s on-screen crimes. But, at a screening of the first episode in Birmingham, she had to look away at one point.
“I, as Helen, can’t watch it,” admits the 51-year-old Londoner, who also appeared this year in BBC Two’s MotherFatherSon. “It’s disgustingly violent. And it should be. I think it’s much more disturbing that somebody slashes somebody’s face, or somebody shoots somebody, and it’s all just the end of it.
“It should be horrifying, and you should have the people who are responsible for the violence unable to self-medicate or having mental health problems, or all the things that do happen to people if you kill other people. It is not a natural state of affairs.”
Peaky Blinders, which follows the exploits of the Shelby family following the First World War, first aired on television screens in 2013.
It was the first production to benefit from investment through Screen Yorkshire’s Yorkshire Content Fund and, despite being set in the lawless streets of Birmingham, many of the scenes have been set in locations in God’s Own Country, with Bradford City Hall among one of the few Yorkshire backdrops used in the filming of series five.
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Right from the start of Peaky Blinders, there have been several interesting female protagonists - including Ada, the only female Shelby sibling, played by Newcastle-born Sophie Rundle.
“They’re not strong female characters, they’re just female characters with all that natural strength,” says the 31-year-old, who has recently starred in Gentleman Jack, the popular BBC show following the life of Halifax diarist and landowner Anne Lister.
“They’re funny and they’re ambitious and they’re ballsy, and they’re rude and they’re fallible and you know it’s so much more than just being a strong female character - it’s about being multifaceted.
“You’ve got Polly as this matriarch and she’s every bit as badass as Tommy. You know, she’s not there going, ‘Oooh, Tommy dearest!’”
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One character who has changed a lot is the youngest Shelby brother, Finn. As Harry Kirton - who plays him - puts it, after not wanting to get involved in the violence before, this series Finn is “learning what it’s like to do things alone, compared to guided and assisted”. Essentially, he’s become a darker person to play.
“I feel like he still has the same heart, but the veil keeps on getting thinner and thinner, he hasn’t got so much of a protection,” reasons Kirton, who was just 15 when he was cast in the show.
“As he gets older, there’s more distance between the brothers, and it goes on a darker descent, but then there are some way more lighter bits.
“There’s relationships that deepen because of the things and the choices I’ve now made, through a darkened path.”
Meanwhile, Tommy’s cousin and Polly’s son Michael was last seen on his way to America and at the start of series five, he’s enjoying life in Detroit, when the Stock Market crashes.
“He inevitably comes back to Birmingham to see how he can help figure out this mess,” says the actor behind him, 23-year-old Finn Cole.
“At the end of last season, how I hoped it came across, he was definitely reluctant to go, so I think there is a part of him that wants to be with this family and this gang.”
Tommy wasn’t happy with Michael at the end of the last series. Asked if we will see the two men pitted against each other eventually, Cole says as this season goes on “we see more of Michael’s true colours”.
“Whether or not that’s going to manifest itself in a huge head-to-head with any of these main characters, that’s what we have yet to uncover,” elaborates the star, also known for horror comedy film Slaughterhouse Rulez.
“But we start to see his potential and his ideologies growing, and that’s going to allow for some really cool story points to follow.”
Peaky Blinders airs on BBC One from Sunday, August 25