Peaky Blinders unmasked: Cillian Murphy’s ‘contradiction’ over Thomas Shelby laid bare

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The popular period crime drama is due to restart filming next year after the coronavirus outbreak halted the production’s schedule. During the previous season, Peaky Blinders achieved a personal record for viewing figures with an average of 3.8 million people tuning in each week. Season five concluded with Thomas Shelby’s plot to assassinate the fascist Oswald Moseley being foiled, the death of their ally Aberama Gold and Murphy’s character pointing a gun to his head. Murphy, who plays the head of the Shelby crime family, spoke of the difficulties presented by such a conflicted character.

The Peaky Blinders are led by Shelby, who is not a real historical figure but could have been partially based on Billy Kimber – who united Birmingham gangs under a common criminal cause.

Murphy took on the role of Shelby, known as Tommy, and explained the issues of trying to keep the character likeable despite typically being on the “wrong side of the law”.

He told AOL’s Build Series that the “rich, complex and detailed” writing from creator Steven Knight was pivotal to the audience’s fondness of his character.

Murphy said: “He (Shelby) is inevitably classed as an antihero in the vernacular of TV shows – the way we look at gangster shows.

“But Steven said something, ‘He’s a good man who does bad things to a good end’.

“That to me kind of sums up the contradiction of the character, because there are so many things about him you could isolate and admire.

“[But] there are many, many things that you would be horrified by and yeah, to try to play that contradiction is brilliant because ultimately drama is contradiction, I think.” 

Murphy added that he didn’t “necessarily need to agree with any character” he played because it would “limit the amount of characters” he could play “drastically”. 

Some of his previous roles have included the psychopathic Scarecrow in the 2008 Batman film The Dark Knight, the survivor of a world-ending plague in 2002’s 28 Days Later and the heir to a multi-billion dollar empire in the 2010 hit Inception.

He claimed all that he needed was to be able to “understand and comprehend” the character and their decisions. 

Murphy felt there was a change in Shelby that had been shown throughout the six seasons of Peaky Blinders. 

He said last year: “I think if you watch the whole show you’ll begin to realise that what’s happening gradually is we are beginning to see more and more of the character that existed pre-World War 1.

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“Before he was so traumatised and devastated by his experiences in France in the trenches.

“We’re beginning to see some of those values and things that were important to him… they were dormant for a long time and are now coming back.”

Far from the fictional adaptations on TV screens, the real-life men who inspired the Peaky Blinders show were described as “bullies and violent men” by Birmingham historian Professor Carl Chinn. 

He told that the antiheroes, who have captivated audiences across the nation, are “not to be admired” because they “plagued the working-class poor they lived among”.

Professor Chinn also explained that there was not one Peaky Blinders gang but multiple smaller petty criminal groups and that the term was “like hooligan” today. 

While Knight’s TV creation, which first aired in 2013, revealed some of the “vicious, violent and brutal” acts of the gangs – the more positive portrayal was noted to be far from reality. 

Peaky Blinders is available to stream on Netflix.

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