As we build up to Series 5 of Peaky Blinders at the end of the month, Our Michael Lee sits down with members of the cast to find out what we can expect.
Steven Knight has become one of television’s most successful writers since Peaky Blinders launched back in 2013. Not just content with creating one of the BBC’s most critically acclaimed hits he’s also close to finishing scripts of the second series of Taboo and has completed ‘A Christmas Carol‘, which is coming to your screens this winter. If he is feeling the pressure it’s not showing as he takes his seat with a relaxed smile, clearly relishing what series five has in store.
What are the themes of the new series?
“It’s a fork in the road for a lot of characters, especially Tommy and if you put it simplistically, between good and bad. Is he going to do the right thing? It’s about members of the family being confronted with things that are so huge and potentially damaging that they have to decide who’s side they’re on”
What is it that will make Tommy happy?
“I think that he’s drawn to acquire power but doesn’t know why. Tommy doesn’t know what he wants since the war. If anything, I’d say what he wants is to go back to being the person he was before the war. He worked with horses, he was attached to nature, he had compassion and feelings but the war blasted everything out of him. When he came back he was just switched off so what I’m trying to do over the series is flick his switch back on and make him human again even though it’s painful to start feeling”
Do you have a writing process? Is the plan still to take the Shelby family up to the second world war?
“I don’t really plan things to that extent but what I do have is a destination and when you have a destination you can then get there however you want because at least you know where you’re going. For any journey the most important thing is where you’re heading so it’s always been a particular scene at a particular moment in history that’s going to happen, it’s just how you get there. I’ve found that sitting down and planning an episode doesn’t work for me”.
Did you know how series 5 would end when you sat down to write it?
“Only that, so everything else is up for grabs. You can do anything else, keep Tommy alive.. probably and head for that destination. It sounds weird but I know the characters really well so I tend to put them in a room and let them talk about anything. The kiss of death is saying ‘in this scene she must reveal this to him’ whereas if you just let them talk it happens naturally.
For the end of series three, the idea was to split everybody and series four forced them back again. What I wanted at the end of the fourth was to experiment with the idea that you get to the end of the series and there’s still ten minutes left, so what are you going to do? So Tommy goes on holiday and can’t stand it. So what am I going to do now? So I come up with this thing that completely surprises everybody”
Is Tommy’s PTSD explored further, as hinted at in that finale?
“Very deeply. A lot of it is about where he’s at and the business of coming alive again. He hasn’t reached the bottom yet. What I didn’t want to do is give him post first world war stress-related mental illness in series one and in series two say ‘oh, that’s over now’. I want to keep it going because these people lived with it all their lives”
On Tommy’s venture into politics, there are certainty comparisons that can be made between the late twenties and the current climate.
“It’s extraordinarily appropriate. It’s fortunate for me and unfortunate for the world but those years had a great deal in common with what’s happening now. There’s the rise in nationalism, populism, fascism and racism were suddenly becoming currency, becoming respectable. Some of the things that were said at the time could have have been out of the newspapers today – word for word. It’s quite chilling because we all know how it ended up, it ended in war”
Were you conscious of drawing those parallels in your writing?
“I didn’t even have to. I didn’t have to force it because you just read what happened and what people said and quote that. I think people will think I made it up. It’s like with Churchill, you take things that are real, dance around them and join the dots. It’s great for driving the plot when you know that history is marching alongside you”
The show has had its share of brilliant guest stars over the years.
“We get a lot of approaches from astonishingly A-list actors who love the show but we’ve always tried not to make it ‘spot the celebrity’ because it’d spoil the atmosphere”
A film has long been rumoured. Is there any substance to that?
“I’d never rule anything out. The inspiration came from my parent’s stories that I heard when I was a kid so the world sort of came out of that. It’s the details that are really amazing. The authority of truth is always important”
With that, it’s time for Steven to leave and head to a spa weekend retreat or whatever the hell it is he does to keep himself so calm and serene. There may be gruesome murders and graphic violence in his mind but he’s floating out of here on a different plain to the rest of us. We, and not just for the obvious reason, really don’t want the second world war to start.
Peaky Blinders Returns Sunday 25th August at 9.00pm on BBC One.