We’ve waited two long years for Peaky Blinders series 5, but creator Steven Knight says it’s the “best so far”, with “lots of shocks and surprises”
Episode 1 & 2, Sunday 25 August and Monday 26 August, 9pm, BBC One/HD (CH 101/108). Then weekly on Sundays at 9pm. Also available for 30 days in Catch Up > Channels > BBC iPlayer
We join the Shelby clan on 29 October, 1929, slap-bang in the middle of the Wall Street Crash – and they’ve been hit. Hard. But that’s the least of their worries. Where previous series introduced flesh-and-blood villains, the antagonist of series 5 is an entirely different kind of beast.
Cillian Murphy, who plays Tommy Shelby, tells us: “For the first time, Tommy is facing not a physical threat, but an ideological threat – the rise of fascism. The much more conventional threat of the mafia in the last series, as dangerous as it was, you could grasp it. What tools do you employ to defeat an ideology?”
It hits close to home for Tommy, who became MP for Birmingham South in series 4. He now shares the House of Commons’ halls with the charismatic Oswald Mosley, a fellow MP and very real historical figure who went on to become the leader of the British Union of Fascists.
“It's great for driving the plot when you know that history is marching along beside you,” Knight explains.
Tommy Shelby in glasses: all the better to see his enemies with.
But newcomer Sam Claflin, who plays Mosley, had never heard of him, “Sir Oswald Mosley – he sounds like a knight of the round table! The great thing about not knowing anything about him was that I approached the role with no judgement and was just learning about someone new. I didn’t have any feelings or thoughts towards him… I do now.”
The 33-year-old actor, who you might know as Finnick Odair from The Hunger Games franchise, or as Will Traynor in tearjerker Me Before You, researched the role by watching Mosley’s rallies, which attracted crowds of up to 100,000 people. “The one thing I was always taught in drama school was that you have to love your character before anything else. It was very, very difficult to do so this time.”
Steve Jobs called – he wants his black turtleneck back.
Charming and affable, Claflin couldn’t be further removed from the “extreme” Mosley. He has a wide, enigmatic smile, which is no longer accented by the Mosley ‘tache he grew especially for the role. He’s dressed casually in white, box-fresh trainers, rolled-up trousers and a lightweight khaki jacket worn over a white tee. It’s impossible not to warm to him.
“I would want everyone to be happy,” he says when considering the kind of politician he would want to be. “We should share the wealth, spread the joy. I’m like a hippy on hippy crack. I just want people to be happy, whatever that means for them.”
Much of his portrayal is Claflin’s “own divine creation”, and he describes Mosley and Tommy’s relationship as a “meeting of minds”. “They’re cut from the same cloth, but they’re from very different worlds. Mosley’s been doing politics for a lot longer, despite being younger. There’s an element of ease and comfort about Mosley, whereas Tommy’s sort of out of his depth. Mosley enjoys feeling like he's got the upper hand, but really, they need each other. They use each other for their talents.”
Claflin’s performance has already garnered high praise from Knight, who calls him “absolutely hypnotic”, while Helen McCrory, who plays Polly Gray, says, “I’ve worked with lots of very good actors and you get used to seeing very good acting, but I was really like “wow”. I was really impressed. He made very clever choices.”
Fun fact: Helen McCrory picked this outfit herself. What a badass.
That’s music to Sam’s ears: “I was definitely very, very nervous going into it. They’ve all been doing it for years. They’re a family. The weight of playing Mosley and the Shelby weight on my shoulders was definitely brewing.”
Fortunately, he isn’t the only new face. A host of stars are joining the cast for series 5, including Anya Taylor-Joy (Split), Brian Gleeson (The Bisexual), Neil Maskell (No Offence), Kate Dickie (The Cry), Cosmo Jarvis (Lady Macbeth), Elliot Cowan and Emmett Scanlan (Krypton). And the talent doesn’t stop there – multiple Mercury Prize nominee Anna Calvi produced the scintillating score, which includes several original songs.
“Oh good! I see you got my hat memo. Now we must all become one with the hat.”
As with every season, a new director is behind the camera. On set, Claflin says series 5 director, Anthony Byrne (Ripper Street), encouraged him to keep his distance from the rest of the cast to maintain the feeling of being an outsider. “I was doing it naturally anyway,” Claflin explains. “As time went on, I got to know the guys a lot better. I felt like an honorary member of the Shelbys.”
Sadly, that didn’t mean he got to wear one of the famous Peaky flat caps, as he laments: “Mosely got a trilby and a top hat. I really wanted the haircut.”
It’s just me, myself and I.
“Truthfully, every day I was on set really felt like a pinch-me moment,” he continues. “Most of the scenes are with Cillian and me. Most of the time, I walk into an office and he’s sitting behind a desk with a cigarette and a whiskey. I feel like I’ve lived that moment [by watching] so many of the episodes previously, so it felt a bit like an out-of-body experience.”
Claflin’s first set visit featured a hair and make-up test at Charlie Strong’s Yard, a storage facility owned by the uncle of the Shelby siblings. “It was so surreal and magical. Paul Anderson [who plays Arthur Shelby] was carrying a big Tommy gun and I was like, “This is the Peaky Blinders. I have arrived”.”
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Image credits: Peaky Blinders © Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd. 2019 – Photographer: Robert Viglasky