In the epic gangster family series “Peaky Blinders” there is always a lot of action going on. Over the course of five seasons, some would say the explosions have gotten bigger, the fights bloodier and the characters more colorful than ever. With the series’ lifeline plot mounting on the success of the combative Shelby family, it’s easy to see why the addicting story line’s only option is to escalate. With the highly anticipated season 5 in the midst, many are wondering what could be in store for the band of polarizing individuals that make up the Peaky Blinders. Helen McCrory, who plays the fiercely sharp matron of the family, Polly Gray, sat down with Metro to give the scoop on season 5, talk the progression of the characters, and dive into why the violence in the show is completely warranted and even essential.
Helen McCrory talks epic build-up and necessary violence in ‘Peaky Blinders’ season 5
A lot has happened over the past five seasons. I’m curious to see what progressions you’ve personally seen with your character, Polly Gray?
Polly is an interesting character. She’s tough as old boots but there’s a big difference between being tough as old boots and killing someone, you know? When she gave herself to Sam Neill’s character in the second series and then shot him at the end of that and said the line for the first time, “Don’t f—k with the Peaky Blinders” — I’ve literally had that shouting in my head for the last four years. That was surprising to me, when he took her there. But that’s the joy of Steve Knight’s writing. He doesn’t decide, OK, so Polly is going to be the straight one and the strong one, therefore she’s not going to go here. Instead, he says, no, this can all happen to Polly. Like her son coming back or her near-death experience which leads her to hear voices. You think, OK, well what is this? Has she taken too many drugs or something? But Steve will say, “Oh no, no … She really hears voices.” He’s constantly pushing the boundaries with her, which is fantastic. I sort of know where I’m going next year already and immediately I thought, really? Wow, why not? That’s the fun part of playing Polly and working on “Peaky Blinders.” We always have discussions over the characters. It’s never to do with the money, it’s to make sure you have a good script.
The series is known for being quite shocking, with twists and turns happening every season. What have been some of the more surprising moments for Polly?
Well, when my kid was alive, for one. That was quite a shock when Michael came back. I really thought he was dead. I mean, I spent so much time weeping over his death. I’ve also been quite surprised about how many men I’ve gotten through at their age — those scenes are always fun. Polly’s not married, so why not?
How do you get yourself into the “Peaky Blinders” mindset?
For me, it’s the clothes and it’s the walk. I’ll always wear that same tight silhouette because I believe there is something quite strangled about Polly. She’s always pushing against something. But whenever I have my first scene with Cillian [Murphy], I’m always back in that headspace. It’s Tommy who really grounds Polly.
What’s your take on some people claiming the show has gotten more violent?
I don’t know if it’s gotten more violent, but I think the violence is different. If you remember the first season and the first few scenes, where people were shell-shocked when they came into the pub and started shooting … You just had these scenes were everything explodes. But I think the mental scars that the war gave those men have impacted the violence. But perhaps it’s more palatable for people in the first few series because it was clearly a result of the brutality that they had seen. People forget we’re only talking about four years later. At that time, people were violent and people were tough. These men came back from two World Wars and shook and screamed at night because of it. War is brutal. It’s very hard to escape the cruelty and that’s why, when you talk about the violence, you should look away from the violence. It should disgust you. That’s a healthy way of things.
What’s in store for fans for season 5?
Steve’s writing is just superb and [season 5] is almost like a portrait of Tommy’s mind unraveling. Steve talks about ideas all of the time: Can you run away from your past? These people who are criminals in the beginning, can money free them? Can they become apart of society? Can you do that and can you transform yourself? Or will you always be dragged back and reminded of who you are? I think some characters can, but with Tommy, you find him just getting iller and iller as the season goes on, and there’s such a cacophony of pain in his mind — and I love that. I love the fact that Cillian himself looks like he’s sculpted by Michael Angelo but he’s just this tortured being and constantly the past comes back to him. But, as we learn, it’s always better to go on than to turn around.
“Peaky Blinders” season 5 drops on Netflix Oct. 4.