Be prepared for “shocks and surprises to come,” said Peaky Blinders creator and writer Steven Knight at tonight’s packed-house London premiere of the gangster epic’s 5th season. “It gets better and better,” Knight promised an enthusiastic crowd — some of whom came dressed in 1920s garb to the highly sought-out event.
Peaky will return to UK television later this year, moving from BBC Two to BBC One after its 4th season Best TV Drama BAFTA win in 2018. It will also, I’ve learned, be trailered in movie theaters ahead of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood which releases in the UK on August 14. Such is the cinematic quality of Peaky — which stars Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory and Paul Anderson — and the belief that the BBC has in the ongoing series. BBC Director of Content Charlotte Moore introduced the screening at BFI Southbank tonight and said demand for tickets was bigger than anything before it.
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As we’ve previously reported, Season 5 kicks off with the financial crash of 1929. Opportunity and misfortune are everywhere. When Tommy Shelby MP (Murphy) is approached by a charismatic politician (Sam Claflin) with a bold vision for Britain, he realizes that his response will affect not just his family’s future but that of the entire nation.
It’s safe to say this season will delve into Tommy’s psyche. Murphy, who is shooting Paramount’s A Quiet Place 2, was not able to attend tonight, but his co-stars McCrory and Season 5 addition Claflin, as well as returning star Sophie Rundle, chatted with Knight and producer Caryn Mandabach about the series’ impact and future.
Rundle characterized the show as “punk energy on screen.” She praised how Knight has “mythologized British history, which we’re shy about,” contrary to Americans.
Mandabach, a longtime transplant to London and whose credits include Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, Cybill, 3rd Rock From the Sun, That 70s Show and Nurse Jackie, noted, “Americans are more able to understand the hero’s journey over time. They are more character-driven than plot-driven. In Britain, the thing they are not used to doing is to follow the anti-hero journey. Tommy is more in line with Don Draper or Walter White or Tony Soprano.”
Moving to BBC One from BBC Two has not been a compromise in any way, said Mandabach. “It’s been a fantastic partnership and so happy-making.”
For Knight, the timely storyline of Season 5 is “fortunate for us and unfortunate for the world. The things that were happening in the time we are setting the series have an unbelievable relevance to what’s going on now: the rise of populism, fascism, racism. What I hope the experience one might take from this is what was the consequence of what happened the last time. Nine years later, there was a world war.” In Season 5 of Peaky, “People will think it’s staggering, or they’ll think we made it up. But the language and phrases are the same. It’s quite chilling.”
Claflin, who joins in Season 5 as fascist firebrand Oswald Mosley said he felt “extremely welcomed, especially the character I have the opportunity to play.” Mosely historically is a very controversial figure and Claflin said that in Tommy’s dealings with the character, “he is out of his comfort zone. He’s playing a big boys’ game — playing chess if you will — and Mosley is someone who’s grown up playing chess.” It’s like Tommy goes from “a big fish in a small pond to going into the ocean.”
The pair, Claflin said, “try to outwit one another using each other to try and better themselves and get ahead… It’s a great journey. For Tommy, it’s a very, very different approach, Tommy’s battle is with Tommy. Tommy is his own worst enemy.”
Claflin added that the character of Mosley “opened my eyes to a world I wasn’t familiar with. To step into the shoes of someone who challenges me, not only as an actor but as a human, opened my mind, eyes and heart to a different type of person.” Still, in drama school Claflin was taught, “you have to love your character” and yet, “it was very very difficult with this one… It was challenging and terrifying but enjoyable.”
Fans will groove to a classic ‘Peaky Walk’ as Rundle called it — think earlier seasons or The Right Stuff accompanied by what’s a now iconic contemporary soundtrack juxtaposed against the period essence of the story. Anna Calvi, the composer this year, takes a cue from Nick Cave’s iconic theme “Red Right Hand.”
McCrory’s take on the family is that the “women and the men do try and find love. Everybody likes being solitary, but very few people like being alone. They are all searching for love.” But the question becomes, “Can a bad person become good? If a bad person does a good act, does the good act become bad?” She added, “Even gun-wielding eye-slitters need love.”
That’s been part of Knight’s thematic over the years and he has said he would like to “rehabilitate” Tommy — he also is counting on ending the series at seven seasons with the start of WWII so that this becomes a story about people between the wars.
Knight still feels “it’s a miracle that we’ve got this fantastic cast that comes back time after time.” The show is “the sum of its parts. It’s not like there’s weakness there. When you’re writing the next series, as I am right now, you’re confident they can do this stuff and be right there.”
While certain characters have met an untimely demise in seasons past, Knight reassured tonight that Tommy, Polly, Arthur and Ada all make it to the end.