We haven’t done that much on Peaky Blinders – that fire and brimstone depiction of Birmingham gang life in the 1920s – because I can never be sure that the show is crime enough or not. Yes, it stars Cillian Murphy as the gang leader Tommy Shelby trying to bloodily fight his way out of the furnace of illegal activity and bloody street war, but I’ve never been sure. However, if you read our piece last Christmas – where we asked leading crime authors what their favourite crime dramas of the year were (have a read here) – Peaky Blinders was a very popular choice. So what do I know? Anyway, the last panel session of the day at the Radio Times Festival was all to do with this cult hit and it was a packed auditorium.
To much squeals of delight Cillian Murphy took to the stage with showrunner Steven Knight, and Knight – a hugely respected and in-demand movie screenwriter – immediately talked about growing up in the Small Heath area of Birmingham, and hearing stories about these gangs. It was only when he started to do some research he realised that he had, in many ways, been shielded from the true violent nature of the gangs’ escapades. Characters and story came from personal recollections from his family and research (although he told the audience research is there to be done and then thrown away). His mother was a bookies’ runner. There was a preacher character in the early 20th century called Jerry Jesus.
It was Cillian Murphy’s turn next. He said that he was aware of something happening in television, and that he wanted to get into it because of the marquee series that were being made and the good writing on show.
He told the audience that initially it was the hat that helped him fully get into Tommy’s character and the accent (to my mind one of the worst on television, but well-liked within the crowd) was worked on thanks to a day out with Steven and his Brummie mates drinking Guinness one afternoon.
Murphy said it’s a joy to work on the show because of the long scenes and, as actors, there isn’t time to sit on one’s laurels. It’s one scene to the next in quick succession. The experience, he said, has made him very fit as an actor. Cue whelps of excitement and agreement within some members of the crowd. he also said the scenes with Tom hardy are often 20-minute takes, and very intense.
Nothing too much was given away about the trajectory or what’s coming up in series three (which starts filming on Monday week), but Knight did say that his initial question he wanted to answer was can you escape a place like the slums of Birmingham? Can Tommy Shelby, or someone like Tommy Shelby, rise up and become acceptable? And, in this series’ case, could Tommy Shelby ascend through the ranks and become Sir Thomas Shelby? He’s always seen the series ending in 1940, when the first air raid siren sounds across Birmingham. How long it’ll take to get there he didn’t know.
Knight ended by saying that there will be new musical collaborations, new guest stars and that series three is the best yet by some distance and that everyone feels like it has gone to another level. He also explained that the big theme in series three will be power – what it does to people and what people will do to get it.
An interesting side story – Knight and Murphy told the Snoop Dogg story. The hip hop star made noises that he was a big fan of the show, and instructed his agent to arrange a meeting with Knight when he was next in London. The two met at Snoop’s hotel, with the hip hop star saying it was the best televisual description of how he got into gang life he’d seen. He also told Knight that the gangs of South Central (LA) love the show.