Play­ing a Blin­der!

As Peaky Blin­ders – TV’s coolest show – re­turns for se­ries four, Ir­ish star Cil­lian Mur­phy says the Shelby gang will meet their most dan­ger­ous en­e­mies yet

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - NEWS - By Ni­cole Lam­pert

Cal­i­for­nia had cow­boys. New York had the Mob. And Birm­ing­ham had the Peaky Blin­ders, who were of Ir­ish de­scent. The BBC2 drama about 1920s gang­sters has be­come a world­wide hit af­ter its sub­se­quent screen­ing on Net­flix, and for US view­ers it’s the most talked-about Bri­tish show since Down­ton Abbey. But fab­u­lous cos­tumes and pe­riod aside, the two shows couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent.

Based on the lives of real gang­sters, Peaky Blin­ders is not for the faint-hearted, re­count­ing in graphic de­tail the dark un­der­belly of or­gan­ised crime in Eng­land’s West Mid­lands. But it’s also achingly cool. ‘In fic­tion, Amer­i­cans have al­ways mythol­o­gised their out­laws in a way we haven’t,’ says the cre­ator and writer Steven Knight. ‘Peaky Blin­ders has shown it’s pos­si­ble to take what’s con­sid­ered mun­dane – the ex­pe­ri­ences of the work­ing-class – and make them even more suit­able for mythol­o­gis­ing than the up­per classes.’ Brum­mie Steven grew up hear­ing leg­ends of the Peaky Blin­ders – so-called be­cause of the ra­zor blades hid­den in their dis­tinc­tive peaked caps – and over three se­ries the world he cre­ated for them has mor­phed into its own uni­verse, us­ing real events and peo­ple with a heavy dose of artis­tic li­cence.

Cork ac­tor Cil­lian Mur­phy, who has the ici­est blue eyes on TV, plays the enig­matic king­pin Tommy Shelby. We’ve seen him in­volved in sev­eral bloody turf wars and have run-ins with Win­ston Churchill and the Fe­ni­ans, while us­ing his ill-got­ten for­tune to build a busi­ness em­pire. His beloved wife Grace died when she took a bul­let to the chest, and he’s bed­ded ev­ery­one from bar­maids to aris­to­crats. A First World War hero, he drinks too much, smokes too much and gets straight back up when he’s knocked down. ‘He packs things away,’ says Cil­lian. ‘He doesn’t spend money on ther­apy so he drinks a lot of whiskey. He doesn’t emo­tion­ally process things, which makes him tricky to spend time with, but he’s fas­ci­nat­ing to play as an ac­tor. He can be so ten­der at times and so vul­ner­a­ble, but then he’s so ap­palling at other times.’

The breath­tak­ing fi­nale of the last se­ries looked like the end of the road for the gang, which in­cludes Tommy’s fear­some Aunt Polly, played by He­len McCrory, his broth­ers Arthur (Paul An­der­son) and John (Joe Cole), his sis­ter Ada (So­phie Run­dle) and his cousin Michael (Finn Cole). Af­ter hand­ing them wads of cash for their hard work, Tommy in­formed them they were go­ing to jail for a while to ap­pease ‘peo­ple more pow­er­ful than our en­e­mies’, while he en­sconced him­self in his coun­try house. And se­ries four couldn’t be­gin more dra­mat­i­cally. The im­pris­oned Shel­bys are or­dered to hang. They lit­er­ally have their necks in nooses be­fore Tommy bro­kers a deal to save them. And that’s just the start.

The New York Si­cil­ian Mafia are in town for re­venge af­ter the Peakys as­sas­si­nated a mem­ber of their fam­ily, Vin­cente Changretta, in the last se­ries. Adrien Brody, who won an Os­car for his role in The Pi­anist, ap­pears as Luca Changretta, who’s about to make things very tough for the Peakys. ‘They really are fight­ing for their lives this time,’ says Cil­lian. ‘This is the Mafia and it doesn’t really get big­ger than that.’

The prob­lem for Tommy is that none of his fam­ily are talk­ing to him af­ter their near-death ex­pe­ri­ences. Polly is com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the spir­its of her dead daugh­ter and par­ents, while John and Arthur have re­tired to the coun­try. But the ar­rival of the Mafia means they have to re­turn to Birm­ing­ham. ‘It’s very clever how Steven gets them back to­gether,’ says He­len. ‘Polly hates Tommy. She’s changed into a dif­fer­ent woman. She never fought in the trenches, she’s never had a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence. But she be­lieves she’s go­ing to die when that noose is around her neck. Now she’s as dan­ger­ous as Arthur and Tommy be­cause she doesn’t fear death any more.’ To help save his fam­ily, Tommy reaches out to some ne­far­i­ous ac­quain­tances. One re­turn­ing char­ac­ter is Jewish gang­ster Al­fie Solomons (Tom Hardy), the real-life mob­ster who ran 1920s north Lon­don and a cult fig­ure among fans of the show. He’s be­trayed Tommy twice, but some­how they re­main friends. Then there’s gypsy Aberama Gold (Game Of Thrones star Ai­dan Gillen), a new char­ac­ter who ar­rives with his boxer son Bon­nie (Jack Rowan). It’s a dream role for 20-yearold Jack, a teen box­ing champ seen as a huge new tal­ent af­ter play­ing a teenage psy­chopath in Chan­nel 4’s Born To Kill. ‘On my first day I was stood be­tween Ai­dan Gillen, Cil­lian Mur­phy and Tom Hardy. I couldn’t be­lieve it was real,’ he re­calls. ‘I had the last line in the scene and I had night­mares that af­ter all their long speeches I’d for­get my one line.’ Tommy’s gang’s prob­lems are aired by glam­orous new face Eden (played by Love/Hate star Char­lie Mur­phy). Could she be a new love in­ter­est for Tommy? The show’s al­ready been signed up for one more se­ries, which may be its last says Steven, who al­ways wanted it to be a five-se­ries show. Mean­while, he has sev­eral Peaky projects on the go. He’s ‘quite far down the line’ with a mu­si­cal, and there are plans for a movie too. ‘Peaky Blin­ders has a life of its own and I’m not sure where it will end,’ he says. ‘New peo­ple con­stantly dis­cover the show. We haven’t peaked yet.’ Peaky Blin­ders re­turns on BBC2 Wed­nes­day at 9pm.

From left: Ada, Tommy and their Aunt Polly. Below: Adrien Brody as New York mob­ster Luca Changretta

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