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‘Peaky Blinders’ Gangster Tommy Shelby to ‘Become Good,’ Reveals Show Creator

Peaky Blinders
Photo by Viglasky © Caryn Mandabach Productions

At a masterclass Monday at Canneseries TV drama festival in Cannes, “Peaky Blinders” creator Steven Knight revealed that by the end of the show’s run, its lead character, ruthless gangster Tommy Shelby, will have undergone a surprising transformation.

Season 5 of the show will air this year, and Knight is writing Season 6, and with Season 7 it will come to a close as World War II starts.

During past seasons Shelby – played by Cillian Murphy – has been shown to be a savage killer, damaged by his experiences in World War I. “[Season 7] will tell a different story, where Tommy Shelby – who begins as this nihilistic, looking-out only for his family person – will be redeemed, and he will become good,” Knight revealed. “I want to take him on that journey from the person we saw [in Season 1], to the person he will become in 1939.”

Knight explained that the show had been inspired by stories his mother and father had told him about a real family of gangsters who operated an illegal gambling operation in Birmingham, England during their childhoods. He decided to mythologize this period of British history between the wars in the same way that Hollywood had mythologized the world of the cowboys in Westerns.

Knight said that he had wanted to portray working-class British people in a way that was different to how they had been shown in most other period dramas. “The tradition in Britain is if you do anything about working-class people either they are scary or funny or it is a shame, it’s a pity … we must feel sorry for them,” Knight said.

“The experiences I had of working-class life was of people enjoying themselves, having a laugh, having fun, having self-respect; they were in control of their own destines to an extent, and so I wanted to reflect that. So you had a working-class environment where these people are sort of aristocracy in a way within their own community,” he said.

Another way that Knight sought to reinvent the British period drama was to use modern popular music as a soundtrack, including music by artists like P.J. Harvey, Nick Cave and David Bowie. One of the most recent musicians to contribute tracks is American rapper A$AP Rocky.

“Peaky Blinders” started to shoot in 2012, but Knight revealed that he’d first pitched the idea to Channel 4 about 25 years ago. He said he was glad it hadn’t been picked up then, as now – with large high-definition TV sets in most homes, and the use of CGI during post-production – it is possible to recreate the glamour of the period through high-production values.