JONATHAN WRIGHT speaks to writer Steven Knight on lo­ca­tion at the film­ing of his 1920s gang­ster epic

BBC History Magazine - - Contents -

The pick of new his­tory pro­grammes

Peaky Blin­ders TV BBC Two Sched­uled for Novem­ber Some­where off Manch­ester’s Pic­cadilly thor­ough­fare lies a fine old com­mer­cial build­ing that has, mirac­u­lously, yet to be con­verted into lux­ury flats. It’s grand but gloomy and the paint is peel­ing. This, of course, makes it a per­fect set­ting for film­ing writer Steven Knight’s saga of Brum­mie gang­sters, Peaky Blin­ders – es­pe­cially as there’s some­thing of a back-to-ba­sics vibe as we re­join Tommy Shelby (Cil­lian Mur­phy) and co.

“The fam­ily are all sep­a­rate, they’re not speak­ing to each other, but they face an ex­is­ten­tial threat from out­side that means they all need to get back to­gether on their home turf to sur­vive,” says Knight. The Shel­bys re­turn to the grime of Small Heath in 1926, the year of the gen­eral strike, when the UK ap­peared primed for revo­lu­tion.

For Knight, part of the drama­tist’s art is to look be­yond his­tory’s “lin­ear pro­gres­sion” and our knowl­edge that the over­throw of the Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment didn’t oc­cur. “The re­al­ity at the time is it’s chaos and things hap­pen, but other things couldd hap­pen,” he says. “In that chaos, you will find in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ters whose qual­i­ties and sto­ries are such that you get a much more ac­cu­rate pic­ture of what was re­ally go­ing on at the time.”

One such char­ac­ter is Jessie Eden (Char­lie Mur­phy), based on a real-life shop stew­ard and com­mu­nist, a woman whose union ac­tiv­i­ties bring her into con­tact with busi­ness owner Tommy. There’s also a new bad­die, Luca Changretta, a vi­o­lent “ghost of Christ­mas past” played by Os­car win­ner Adrien Brody, and the lat­est in a line of ad­ver­saries who stand in the way of Tommy gain­ing the re­spectabil­ity, money and pres­tige he sees as mark­ers of suc­cess.

Here lies one of Peaky Blin­ders’ key themes: class. “The ques­tion of the whole se­ries has been: if you are born in a cer­tain en­vi­ron­ment and a cer­tain class, can you es­cape?” says Knight. Is that es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult in Bri­tain? “It was in the ‘20s. I’m not sure it’s that much eas­ier now.”

Back on set, as we watch Cil­lian Mur­phy run­ning through an ac­tion se­quence, it’s clear Tommy isn’t go­ing to get away clean. It’s this strug­gle that hu­man­ises a vi­o­lent man who might oth­er­wise seem ir­re­deemable, and which has done much to win the show an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence. “We hear Dy­lan is a fan – that’s enough for me, we can stop now,” says Knight.

“The se­ries asks: if you are born in a cer­tain en­vi­ron­ment and class, can you es­cape?”

Polly Gray (He­len McCrory) and Luca Changretta (Adrien Brody) in the new se­ries of Peaky Blin­ders

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.