Belfast Telegraph

'Tommy Shelby's a good man doing evil for right reasons'

Get ready, Peaky Blinders fans: series five is finally here and there is plenty of violence and intrigue in store. Georgia Humphreys reports

Helen McCrory as Aunt Polly in Peaky Blinders, which returns tomorrow
Helen McCrory as Aunt Polly in Peaky Blinders, which returns tomorrow

By Georgia Humphreys

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 Peaky Blinders gang. And Tommy Shelby MP (played so brilliantly by Dunkirk actor Cillian Murphy) is approached by a charismatic politician with a bold vision for Britain.

There you have it: the setting for series five of Steven Knight's crime family saga, which has been so successful it's now moved from BBC Two to BBC One.

Eighteen months since the last episode of Peaky Blinders aired, it would be a massive understatement to say expectations are high.

At the end of the fourth series, the Shelby gang's feud with New York Sicilian mafioso Luca Changretta came to blows, changing the family's lives forever. It also led to more PTSD for former soldier Tommy.

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 evil 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 five, 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 the First World War, during the war, at the request of commanding officers, 6,000-8,000 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).

And 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. Never more so than with series five, where, politically, it's the early 1930s - there is nationalism, populism, racism sweeping across the western world.

"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. "It's disgustingly violent. And it should be. I think it's much more disturbing that somebody slashes somebody's face and it's all just the end of it. It should be horrifying."

Right from the start of Peaky Blinders, there have been several interesting female protagonists, including Ada, the only female Shelby sibling, played by Sophie Rundle (31).

"They're not 'strong female characters', they're just female characters with all that natural strength," the Gentleman Jack star says, passionately. "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."

One character who we will see 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".

"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. "As he gets older, there's more distance between the brothers and it goes on a darker descent."

The last time we saw Michael (Tommy's cousin and Polly's son) he was 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. Tommy wasn't exactly very 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."

  • BBC One, Sunday 9pm & Monday 9.30pm

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