PEAKY BLINDERS has earned itself a cult following since hitting BBC Two four years ago. So much so that the show’s star, Cillian Murphy, has seen pictures of fans with giant tattoos of his character Tommy Shelby.
In the past three series of the gangster epic, set in post-First World War Birmingham, we’ve seen Tommy move up in the world as the brains behind the most feared and powerful gang in the area, the Peaky Blinders.
Ahead of the show’s return, Murphy and co-star Helen McCrory tell us about the danger awaiting the Shelby family this time round.
Murphy returns for another striking performance as flat cap-wearing, chain-smoking gang boss Tommy.
Series three ended with viewers wondering what Tommy was playing at by turning four members of his family in to the police.
He’s always been the linchpin but now it’s business first and family second — or so it seems, as he remains unforgiven and estranged from the rest of the Shelby gang.
“I don’t know if he is willing to walk, I think he’s really trying not to think about it, and he’s just getting on with it,” reveals 41-year-old Murphy, who has also starred in huge films such as Dunkirk this year.
“He’s a really, really, really complicated man emotionally, he doesn’t deal with stuff ... He loses his wife in series three and I think that any progress that he’d made emotionally through being married and through her, he’s gone back.”
Tommy redeems himself in some of his relatives’ eyes early on in series four by coming to the rescue of incarcerated family members, but Cork actor Murphy hints that the Shelby relationships are still “complicated and messed up”.
Tensions rise when Tommy receives a letter on Christmas Eve with a Black-Hand — a mark of a warning from the Mafia — and the family’s only option could be to reunite in Small Heath (the slum where Tommy grew up).
“The idea was to put them under the greatest threat that they’ve ever been under really,” explains Murphy.
The source of the threat is mobster Luca Changretta, played by Adrien Brody, who is seeking revenge over an assassination in series three.
Of Brody, Murphy says: “He just has incredible energy, which we’ll get to see as the show progresses; obviously it’s going to be a showdown at some point.”
Skyfall and Harry Potter star Helen McCrory plays matriarch Aunt Polly, who fiercely ran the Peaky Blinders while the men were in the trenches of the First World War, and long ago made peace with the family’s criminal activities.
But following nephew Tommy’s betrayal — which led to her imprisonment — Polly is a broken woman, and has to ask herself if she can forgive him for the sake of her family.
Especially because early on in the first episode, we see Polly face the terror of being led to the gallows — a scene that McCrory, who has also worked extensively on stage, found challenging to film.
“It’s very disturbing,” the 49-year-old actress elaborates. “Because we are all mortal, and we’re not a culture that really talks about it.”
The experience is a real turning point for Polly as a character.
“We see her believing that she’s going to die,” McCrory explains.”She calls on the Virgin Mary to bring the spirits of her mum, her dad and her daughter to her. In that moment, she believes she sees her daughter’s face and from this moment on, Polly believes that she’s living with the spirits constantly around her.”
This, McCrory explains, leads to Polly no longer being scared of death. Will this newfound attitude come in handy when fighting the Peaky Blinders’ enemies this series?
“She’s an equal because of her lack of fear of death,” affirms London-born McCrory, who is married to Homeland star Damian Lewis. “She (Polly) now no longer refers to anybody in order to act, and that’s what has changed.
“She now makes her own decisions and that makes her really dangerous.”
So, whether we will see a long-term reunion between Polly and her nephew Tommy, who she has looked after since he was young, remains to be seen.
“She (Polly) hates the man that runs the family (Tommy), even though she is a matriarch, and he is the patriarch and therefore, will they have to reunite in order to run the family? Will she unite or will she take him down?” teases McCrory.
- Peaky Blinders returns to BBC Two on Wednesday, November 15