Yes, there are spoilers.
“The question of the whole series is, ‘Can people from this background escape, become respectable, get away?’ We’re trying to dramatize the things that pull them back. . . Cash you can get, the respectability could possibly take 500 years,” [Knight said]. McCrory added, “However much you’re wearing white gloves, there’s still the grime of Birmingham under your nails.”
— Steven Knight and Helen McCrory in Deadline
As Peaky Blinders, Series 3 ended, there were questions about what happened at the end of Episode 6. To answer that question, it’s necessary to go back to Series 1.
In Series 1, Episode 6 of Peaky Blinders, Polly explains to Ada why her children were taken away from her, a conversation
sets up her story in Series 2. There is, however, another part of this exchange that is especially relevant given the closing of Series 3. Polly explains:
And they did it because they could and because I was weak. But they will never take your baby away from you because Tommy won’t let them. Because Tommy won’t let them walk all over us. Now it is Tommy that has brought strength and power to this family ’cause he knows, you have to be as bad as them above in order to survive.
Two things stand out. First, Polly is explaining that, fundamentally, the Shelbys are ruthless in order to gain power and the ability to control their fate. Second, she acknowledges that issues of class do not separate “good” from “bad” people. The wealthy are equally ruthless; they are simply able to hide behind their wealth, which gives them an air of respectability.
Contrast Polly and Ada’s exchange with Tommy’s speech to the family in the closing moments of Series 3:
This is who I am. And this is all I can give you for what you’ve given me. Your hearts and your souls. Yesterday I nearly lost my son. You [Polly] should fucking understand that. For what, eh? For what? For this [the money]? For this? I know that you all want me to say that I’ll change, that this fucking business will change. But I’ve learnt something in the last few days. Those bastards are worse than us. Politicians, fucking judges, lords and ladies. They’re worse than us, and they will never admit us to their palaces, no matter how legitimate we become, because of who we are. Because of who we fucking are, because of where we’re fucking from. Our Ada knows. She got smart about the revolution. And she knows you have to get what you want your own way.
After that, Tommy stuns his family by revealing they will be arrested for their crimes, which they are. As this is happening, he tells them that they will have to trust him because he has made a deal with someone more powerful, in this case (he implies) officials in the elected government who are fighting a corrupt aristocracy working to re-establish the old order.
The parallels are striking for a number of reasons.
Polly believed that having money and power would have protected her children when they were taken from her. Tommy’s experience in Series 3 shows that even money and power are not enough. Ironically, his son is taken at the opening of the Grace Shelby Foundation after he has made a speech about keeping the poor children of Birmingham safe. Even though he has paid for this facility, he cannot keep Father Hughes out, and he cannot keep Section D from taking Charlie, the part of his family dearest to him. The tenderness Tommy once showed to Grace is now showered on Charlie. If Tommy loses Charlie — and he in the end, he is able to save his son only by using the ruthless tactics of a desperate gangster — his connections to Grace and that part of himself are gone, and he has failed the part of his family dearest to him.
Tommy has been clear since Series 1: He wants to be a legitimate businessman. He takes the first step when Billy Kimber gives him a betting license; he takes another in London with his export business as Michael oversees the legal work and stays out of the off-book business. That this separation causes tension in the family becomes more evident in Series 3 as Arthur and John chafe at being gangsters waiting in the kitchen for their meeting with Tommy, while Michael works above stairs. As Tommy tells them, “Legitimate business first!” Tommy’s estate and his creation of a charitable foundation point to his desire to enter the respectable realm of the aristocracy.
But in Series 3, Tommy moves beyond the knowledge Polly has had from the beginning: “They’re worse than us, and they will never admit us to their palaces, no matter how legitimate we become, because of who we are. Because of who we fucking are, because of where we’re fucking from.” And because they control much of the social infrastructure (e.g., the police and the courts). He answers the question Knight has posed: No, the Shelbys will never be accepted, regardless of how much money they make or how many foundations they start, because the old order, the aristocracy, will never allow them and they are ruthless with those who would defy their power.
On one hand, Series 3 would appear to end with Tommy in the same position as Polly when her children were taken away. He watches as his family is arrested and hauled off, just as young Michael and Anna were. But there’s a key difference. Tommy has cut deal with a group more a group more powerful, presumably the elected government. The Shelbys will give evidence that will help bring down a rigged system.
In the final shot, Tommy stands alone, framed by the doorway of his estate, but he has laid the groundwork to fight another war, this time with an aristocracy he thought he wanted to join. He has gone from “fighting for the King” in Series 1 (a comment echoed more cynically in Series 3 to being forced to kill after “taking the King’s fucking shilling”) to fighting against the King, hence his reference to the elected government as well as the communist revolution Ada supports.
As Series 3 closes, we are being prepared for Series 4, where Tommy Shelby will no longer be the King’s solder; rather, he will join the revolution because, as he puts it, “You have to get what you want your own way.”
Publication Date: 11 June 2016
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