SPOILER ALERT: This post contains details about the Season 6 premiere of Peaky Blinders.. After a long wait, Peaky Blinders is back, just having premiered the first episode of the final season on BBC One this evening in the UK, and after the tragic loss of one of the show’s most important players, Helen McCrory (Aunt Polly), who passed away in April last year. Show creator Steven Knight and executive producer Caryn Mandabach sat down with Deadline this weekend to discuss the Season 6 premiere, the impact of losing McCrory on a personal and storyline level, and what’s ahead for the Shelby family (yes, there is a movie being plotted).
DEADLINE: I’d like to start with Aunt Polly’s fate. Clearly fate played a role in what happened given Helen’s sad passing. Steve, did you have to go back and start over, or had you already factored Helen’s illness into your Season 6 storyline plans?
STEVEN KNIGHT: We knew from series 5 that she was not well, but if we’d started shooting before the pandemic closed us down, she would have been in it, but probably not as extensively as she would have been normally. Then, as the pandemic continued, we were told that Helen would be able to do less and less. So I was going back and rewriting. It’s not a complete rewrite because it is a game of Jenga, but there are ways around it so I had to just keep adjusting them until in the end it was apparent that she wouldn’t be able to be in it at all.
DEADLINE: Caryn, apart from just being so sad, what’s that like to deal with as a producer — losing a key cast member?
CARYN MANDABACH: Steve and I had a lunch with Helen and she told us she was sick and it was very honest and brave and typical of her. It was just very honest and brave of her to share it with us, she didn’t have to. We accomomdated her best we could, Covid hit, it made things more complicated, it became harder to accommodate her and it was heartbreaking.
Helen the person we adored, we just revered. You know, we work with actors and the quality of the human Helen was so great; then the other problem of loss was the character. There are two problems, one was you have to absorb the loss of a friend and someone you admired and the other is accommodating a character that is integral.
DEADLINE: In terms of the overall vision for the show, did it change a lot?
KNIGHT: Of course. You know, the thing is that real life intervenes and the loss of the human being Helen McCrory is the tragedy. The loss and consequence to the character in the story is by comparison infinitesimal. But we knew that she loved the show and wanted it to continue, so we felt we would continue.
And what I wanted to do, and what I think we’ve done is, it’s like in real life if you lose a member of your family — even after they’ve passed — their opinion remains in the home, so anything that happens, you think, “What would they have thought about that? What would they have done about that?” and that lasts for such a long time and that’s exactly what we want.
DEADLINE: Tommy doesn’t appear to know what exactly happened to Polly when he discovers her body. Does it need to be explained?
MANDABACH: I love the way (Steve) did the opening. I thought it was so smart. I really like how he handled that. And how about Cillian’s performance, just fantastic. Is there enough we can say about him? He’s exceptional, let’s just say that.
DEADLINE: After Polly’s funeral, you fast forward four years and we see that Tommy has quit drinking in the aftermath of her death. What other kind of impact does that have on him? She’s such an important part of his life.
KNIGHT: I think he’s lost the other half of his functioning self and he’s never really had to do that since he came back from France. So he decides that in order to continue he needs to be a better version of himself. As you will see as the series progresses that’s much, much, much more a complicated ambition.
DEADLINE: So Tommy and Michael had already been on the outs, and now Michael has sworn revenge on Tommy. But it feels like Tommy will come out on top, like he’s always one step ahead.
KNIGHT: (laughs) You’ll see. I saw today that the bookmakers are taking odds on the outcome in Britain and various strands of plot. I thought, I already know what they’re going to do, I could lay a bet. But I’m not going to.
DEADLINE: Also, is Gina’s uncle Jack Nelson meant to be Joseph Kennedy?
KNIGHT: How do you do this, how do you work these things out? You’re the first person and only person who’s worked that out. I thought people would clock it because there’s plenty of hints there. No one spotted it. All I’m doing is confirming the question.
DEADLINE: I was unaware of the history of Miquelon Island, did you always have that in mind?
KNIGHT: I wanted to do the last day of prohibition, but I didn’t want to do it in Chicago or New York or Boston cause then you’re in a minefield of what everybody else has done and how that world looks in everybody’s popular imagination. So I started to read around it and realize the hub of it is this French territory. Those things are always more interesting than things that have become part of the fossilization of the eras, so the fact that that is true and all of these French fishermen gave up their boats and spent their time running rum and whisky into America and then when it all ended they were left with nothing and the distillery companies took all their whisky back that was about to be shipped. So I thought that was quite an interesting bit of history.
DEADLINE: Are we going to be happy at the end with Tommy’s arc? You’ve always said you wanted to redeem him.
KNIGHT: He’s looking for redemption in the Catholic sense, but you need to watch to see if he’s going to get it.
DEADLINE: What is happening with Arthur, is that part of the aftermath of Polly?
KNIGHT: Yes, and the control over the family is starting to be loosened, and Ada is trying her best and will get better and better at it.
DEADLINE: How much of a role do Mosely and the IRA have going forward?
KNIGHT: It does have a role. Tommy is up against lots of opposition because the most formidable enemy he has in the series is himself.
DEADLINE: Your signature theme song “Red Right Hand” isn’t in this first episode at all…
KNIGHT: No, it isn’t but it will appear.
MANDABACH: The director Anthony Byrne made those decisions and I thought it was really smart because you’re always scoring inside Tommy’s head and so his head has changed for various reasons.
DEADLINE: Steve, I know you don’t typically spend a lot of time on set, but because of Covid were you there at all?
KNIGHT: No, it was a complete bubble. Everybody had to just arrive on day one and not see anybody or meet or mix with anybody so I think the intensity of that – the fact that everybody was together — I think you see it on screen which I think is why this one has been received so well. People have picked up that there is a sort of new level of intensity.
DEADLINE: Caryn, you guys were scheduled to begin shooting on March 15, 2020. What was it like dealing with Covid and the show? There must have been some terrifying moments in there.
MANDABACH: Hideous. Really, honestly it was really scary and Anthony Byrne, our director, was calm, he had it all in his head and the execution was in my opinion just top notch.
I’m grateful to the BBC for helping us out and allowing us both the money and the time to do the work. It was extremely hard and expensive for the production to honor the Covid protocols and so I’m wildly proud of my company CMP for producing during such troubled times and for, I think, being very responsible for the brand and the continuation of the brand into the future. I think it has to be said because it’s not like we’re Spider-Man. I own the rights to Peaky Blinders, I own the rights to the brand and I’m not Sony. So everything is heartfelt. I can hardly stand how much I respect everybody and their talents.
DEADLINE: What’s next for Peaky after this final season?
KNIGHT: A film, we’re gonna make a film. Definitely a movie.
DEADLINE: With the same people?
KNIGHT: With the same people, yes.
DEADLINE: So if it’s the same people, although some may be killed in the show, that presumably means Cillian? And what about the timeline for a film?
KNIGHT: Yes. The timeline is always affected by availability. The most important thing in getting things done is deciding you’re going to do them and do it and then it happens. I’m building a studio in Birmingham and I want to shoot it there – I want it to be the first thing to shoot there and that would mean it would be shot within 18 months or two years.
MANDABACH: We believe the brand is a worldwide brand and we have a family at the center of it. I’m not saying we’re Star Wars, but I think it would be churlish of us not to explore every angle of the brand because it resonates so deeply with so many people.
DEADLINE: Steve, I know you hate the term spin-offs…
KNIGHT: I’m going to call it “projectiles” (laughs). Well, we’re gonna see what happens but I always think you’ve got to learn from what is produced. In other words, when you write it you look at what’s been written and you sort of work out what it’s about. And then when you make something and watch it you say, “Oh right, obviously the next thing is that.” So, we’ll wait for the film.
MANDABACH: There’s going to be an immersive theater production in Camden in London. So we know people want to connect. It’s going to be big. The style of theater that they’re doing is interactive. It’s going to be a hot ticket.
And how one evolves in the future is going to be an interesting thing because things are changing so rapidly. But that’s fun and we’re such a little company to own such a big brand and every decision is a heartfelt one based on how wide and how deep the appreciation is for the show.
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