With Peaky Blinders heading into its fourth season on BBC Two beginning November 15 in the UK, creator Steven Knight and core cast members including Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson and Helen McCrory recently shared their thoughts about the latest installment in the lives of the Shelby family, as well as the future of the series and a possible transfer to the big screen (says Knight, “Peaky is now a beast that will not die”). On a visit to the Peaky set, I also spoke with new cast member Adrien Brody.
The plot of Season 4 has been held pretty close to the vest, but it kicks off with Tommy Shelby estranged from his family after an intense Season 3 ending that saw him turn the tables and have them all arrested. This season, it’s back to the family’s roots. When Tommy realizes they are in danger of annihilation, he flees his country house and summons the family to return to the streets of Small Heath, where a desperate fight for survival begins.
Murphy says that at the beginning of Season 4, “Tommy is trying to convince himself it’s okay. He’s trying to live with it and what happened to the rest of them. He’s not the sort of character who’s going to go to therapy… It’s an interesting place to find him completely estranged; family was his raison d’etre.” He also sees similarities to the first season. “These circumstances and the threat from outside mean the family has to regroup again and become good at what they were good at in series one. Obviously all the characters are older and all this water’s gone under the bridge, but I see a lot of parallels to series one and I think I do see as Tommy gets older in terms of his legacy and values and principals, if they were sort of atrophied within him, you can see them sort of beginning to stir.”
McCrory (Aunt Polly) added at a recent press screening of episode one, “They’re all united against something you hate and fear. They have to get together to defend themselves.” It’s good news for Anderson’s Arthur Shelby who, the actor says, “would much rather be at Tommy’s side.”
When I earlier caught up with the Blinders gang on set, they were filming scenes of a cat-and-mouse game between Tommy and Brody’s mafia scion who’s come to town from New York to seek revenge for the murder of his father. Murphy explained Tommy is “using the back streets of Birmingham where he grew up to lure them in.”
Brody’s mobster cuts a sinister and menacing figure when he first appears. I’m told he also shares some parallels with Tommy, which will become more evident as the season rolls along.
Brody told me, “There is a sense of respect that goes into what (Tommy’s) built, but things have to be set right. It’s an old-world kind of thing. There’s always retribution, people don’t forgive. There are a lot of parallels in both families that each character can relate to the other in a sense.”
Exec producer Jamie Glazebrook (of series producer Caryn Mandabach Productions) noted that Brody’s character has “elements where it’s a mirror of Tommy. He also has a family who kind of disappoint and he also has an intellect and isn’t 100% comfortable with being a gangster. So what he brings is extraordinary.”
As for Game Of Thrones’ alum Aidan Gillen’s role as Aberama Gold, Knight says, “If you’re threatened by the devil, you get a devil of your own.” Gillen’s character is “the devil you know.” Gillen himself has said Gold, “is a Romany gypsy with a reputation for being a dangerous man, somebody who is a kind of unknown quantity… some kind of a showman… a larger than life figure. Aberama is a man of his word, so he can be trusted to stick to his side of the deal, but he can also be trusted to ensure that nobody is attempting to get out of their side of the deal.”
This season also introduces Charlie Murphy as Jessie Eden, the trade union activist who made history in the 1920s fighting for equal pay for women. Cillian Murphy says, “Politically, it gets very interesting between the two characters and I think she really shines a light on Tommy because he’s sort of very unpolitical in many respects. He’s a capitalist, but she begins to provoke that a bit.”
And, Charlotte Riley is back as May Carleton. I asked Knight if she and Tommy will start up again and he demurred, “It depends what you mean by ‘start up,’ but there will definitely be a relationship.” Murphy added that viewers, “might get a little surprise.”
Riley’s real-life husband, Tom Hardy, returns again as Alfie Solomons for a “showdown” with Tommy, says Murphy. Says Knight, “Alfie doesn’t change. He’ll be back and do his thing.”
Looking ahead, Season 5 will be set in 1928 and 1929. Knight tells me, “That was the time of the early days of fascism in England which will make it quite of its time and of this time. It involves the royal family and Tory politics; it’s when Italy and Germany were sort of kicking off.”
Although there have been suggestions that Season 5 will be the end of the run for Peaky, Knight today tells me, “The thought has long been to finish after Season 5, but the momentum and love for the thing seems to still be growing exponentially and this is making us pause before deciding finally.”
Does Murphy think there’s going to be a sixth season? He laughs, telling me, “Listen, you know Steve has so many ideas, he’s so inventive, I wouldn’t be surprised. For me, I’ve always said as long as the writing stays as good as it is, I’m around.”
What about plans for a film, and a mooted stage musical? Per Knight, “We are also keeping our minds open as regards a movie and we are making progress on the musical. Peaky is now a beast that will not die.”
Murphy on a movie: “In theory, yeah absolutely if the writing is as good as it is for the show then for sure.” But the musical? “That’s not for me, I’m going to pass on that one.”
Returning to the current season, Knight has said he wrote Brody’s role with the Oscar-winning actor in mind. It’s no secret that famous folk often offer up their services to the period gangster epic with the globally rabid fanbase, but Knight isn’t into stunt casting. “We get incoming from the most amazing actors that want to be in it, but what we don’t want to do is turn it into this celebrity show. And most of them are American, so it’s difficult to get them in. But when you have this list of possibilities in front of you…”
Brody for his part told me he hadn’t seen all of the series before signing on, but when he got the call, “It was very exciting news, and then more exciting when I read the season.” He calls Peaky “a really special show. It’s amazing, once I got wind of it and started talking to friends — everybody I talk to knows about it.”
Knight concurs, In Hollywood, he says, “I can’t get off the topic. If I go to any meeting anywhere with anybody you can’t get off the topic.” He also marvels that although Netflix (which airs Peaky in the U.S.) doesn’t share viewing figures, he has learned that Peaky reached No. 1 in both Rhode Island and Montana last year. “What have they got in common?,” he wonders.
Knight promises “a surprise” at the end of this current season. “I think they pay a big cost. As this series develops there will be losses. But I’m not a believer in pulling a prominent character’s death out of the bag in order to get people to talk about it because I think it’s a law of diminishing returns.”
He makes no bones about seeing each progressive season of Peaky as its best yet. I asked Murphy what he thinks. “Well, it would be foolish to embark on it if you didn’t think that was going to be the case because it’s foolish to embark on any job I think unless you think it’s going to be your best work. I think for me, television shows only succeed if they sort of increase in service to confidence and storytelling and I think that this certainly is the case with our show.”
“I mean, if you could bottle it,” he added, “we’d all be geniuses.”