WIth just over a week to go until the premiere of the highly-anticipated fifth series of BBC gangster drama Peaky Blinders, we’re recapping a tumultuous season 4, meeting the new characters, and revealing everything we know so far about what’s in store for Tommy Shelby as he juggles politics with the family trade.
It has been two years since they last graced our screens in what was a thoroughly riveting fourth series...
At the end of series three, most of the Shelby family had been languishing in prison for six months prior to their planned executions. However, John (Joe Cole), Polly (Helen McCrory), Arthur (Paul Anderson), and Michael (Finn Cole) were saved seconds from the noose by Tommy who had blackmailed the Crown into securing reprieves by leveraging evidence he had unearthed in a private letter of King George V.
Their release didn’t exactly lead to a smooth family reunion, however, as John and Arthur bailed, with their respective wives, to the country, and Polly descended into drunken oblivion.
Tommy appeared to be at the top of his game until past regressions came back to haunt him. Having dispensed with Angel and Vincente Changretta (murders organised by Tommy in revenge for Grace’s death as she took a bullet intended for him), New York Sicilian mafioso Luca Changretta himself arrived in Birmingham with murderous intent. Both Michael and John were shot but Michael survived while John died a violent and bloody death.
It seemed as though Polly, drinking heavily and battling to save Michael from a similar fate, was plotting with Changretta to murder Tommy. In fact the opposite was true. Meanwhile, a boxing match between hitman for hire Aberama Gold’s (Aidan Gillen) son Bonnie and Goliath was planned by Tommy. Luca approached London gangster Alfie Solomons to ostensibly form an allegiance against Tommy so Alfie agreed to let Luca’s men infiltrate the boxing match in order to gain access to Tommy.
At the match Arthur was attacked and killed by Luca’s men but it was all a ruse. Later, when Luca came to Tommy’s Birmingham basement to claim his new territory in the belief he won, he was ambushed by his own men who now worked for Al Capone, thanks to some key negotiating by Tommy. The fatal shot was delivered by none other than Arthur in a genuinely jaw-dropping reveal.
Following Alfie's betrayal, a final devastating face off ensued between Tommy and Alfie on a Margate beach where Tommy sent his old foe to a slightly earlier grave than cancer had planned for him.
The drama and death did not come without a price for Tommy who returned home and battled a return of his PTSD. Not before he managed to wangle from Jessie’s the names of her Communist party contacts from her, however, which he then passed on to the Crown in return for endorsement for his campaign to become a member of parliament.
Heading in to series five Tommy is an elected Labour MP for Birmingham South...
With key cast members Joe Cole, Tom Hardy, and Adrian Brody having departed in season four (and Michael banished to New York for his sins), there is more breathing space for other characters and all eyes are on Jessie Eden (Charlie Murphy), whose motivations and intent remain unclear. Is she really on Tommy’s side? Aidan Gillen, meanwhile, may feature more heavily as Aberama Gold in this series as Hardy and Brody exit stage left.
English actor Sam Claflin will play Oswald Moseley in the new series. He was first spotted performing a Nazi salute in the trailer as the leader of the British Union of Fascists. Another new character, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, was also spotted in the trailer - she’ll play Gina Grey, Michael’s new wife. Irish actors Charlene Murphy, Brian Gleeson, and Emmet J Scanlan are also set to make an appearance this season although their characters are still under wraps.
Of course, Cillian Murphy will return as Tommy alongside fellow Shelby family members Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson, Sophie Rundle, and Finn Cole. Natasha O’Keeffe will also be back as Lizzie.
The aforementioned trailer also features the requisite Peaky chaos with fire and explosions and guns. Anna Calvi composed the score for this series and her song Strange Weather accompanies the preview as Polly wields a gun and Ada (Sophie Rundle) tells Tommy that he’s going to hang himself. What we do know is that this series will explore the rise of fascism in Britain in the 1930s, with the drama kicking off in 1929 as Tommy enters Parliament as an MP. Episode one begins with the Wall Street crash and its impact around the globe, including the rise of fascism in Europe.
Showrunner Steven Knight has spoken about the parallels between then and now as ‘fortuitous’ for the show but ‘terrible for the world’.
“It’s quite bizarre how Peaky, whatever period I’m writing in, seems to have had a spooky connection to what’s going on at the time,” he told PA.
“Never more so than with series five where politically it’s the early 1930s, there is nationalism, populism, racism sweeping across the Western world. And 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.”
While season five will explore politics and the rise of the far right, Knight said he didn't want someone "walking in as Hitler”.
“What I want to reflect is that in the early 1930s in the UK a fascist rally could attract 100,000 people, with others queuing to get in,” he said.
“It’s more the mood, always with Peaky I’m trying to reflect what was happening in history via the people around the Shelbys. And that’s the people in Small Heath, Birmingham.”
One of the talking points about the series is the level of violence and its graphic depiction: garotting, eye gouging, stabbing, throttling - it’s all there. The series’ finales tend to be of the bloodbath variety, and series five remains true to form, kicking off with what Helen McCrory describes as a ‘disgustingly violent’ scene, so disgusting in fact that she had to turn away during the series premiere screening in Birmingham last month.
Despite her horror, McCrory (50) added that she does not believe it normalises violence for young people.
“No, I think the reason that… It is very violent and it’s really horrible and you should look away,” she told PA.
“I look away from the screen. I as Helen can’t watch it. I think it’s disgusting, gratuitous violence. It is… no, not gratuitous – disgustingly violent. But it is. And it should be. I think it’s much more disturbing than somebody slashes somebody’s face or somebody shoots somebody and it’s all just the end of it.”
In Peaky Blinders, she argues, those who exact violence and those who are subjected to it, suffer the consequences, both mental and physical.
“It should be horrifying and you should have the people who are responsible for the violence unable to self-medicate or having mental health problems, or all the things that do happen to people, if you kill other people,” she said. “Because it is not a natural state of affairs. And anybody who looks at the violence of Peaky Blinders and thinks: ‘That exactly is what I want to do’. I mean, sick.”
Showrunner Steven Knight also addressed the issue this week, arguing that the consequences to violence are always in evidence in the series.
“I believe that the violence a young person will see in a computer game where there is no consequence will be more corrosive,” he told PA.
“Whenever there’s an act of violence in Peaky, that person stays hurt for two or three episodes. They are injured, and you see that this brief moment of violence leads to consequence.
“Somewhere down the line an act of violence causes an act of revenge. What I think is dangerous is when people see violence that is routine and inconsequential.
“Batman beating up a load of villains in a warehouse is just beating people. Hopefully you care about these characters in Peaky and so I hope the violence is more of a deterrent.”
Series 5 of Peaky Blinders begins on BBC One on Sunday August 25.