Yes, there are spoilers.
If you’re a Peaky Blinders fan on #TeamGrace (and I am), it’s been an interesting week.
First, there’s the revelation in The Dudley News that Steve Knight is “busy writing Series 4” — oh, and the title of that last episode of Series 2 was “Grace’s Secret.”
Then, on Tuesday, Annabelle Wallis (@AnnebelleWallis) posted a little something on Instagram.
I have to say, the picture set me back a bit. There it was. The iconic shot from Series 1, that moment when we met Grace Burgess. It was a slightly different vantage from Peaky Blinders — off to the side a bit — but there she was, gathering her courage to walk into The Garrison glowing at the end of the lane. Moreover, Walllis’s words reiterated her dedication to Grace’s character: “Day one of Grace…my girl.” In under an hour, it had more than 1000 likes.
Then, on Wednesday, this article appeared in Christianity Today: Angie Chui’s “Peaky Blinders Season 4 Spoilers: Is Grace Really Dead? Tommy to Get a New Love?” There was nothing new here — just old speculation and quotes from Deadline. But the timing seemed odd.
But before that I stumbled onto this piece from The Artifice: Jessica Eve Kennedy’s “A Fatal Twist.” It gave me a lot to think about. In her essay, Kennedy does a thoughtful review of Series 1. She concludes:
As the series develops, Grace’s darkness emerges. . . . Far from the soft-spoken, sweet-natured girl that she portrays, Grace appears to control her femininity and allows people to underestimate her in order to assert her power. By the end of the series, Tommy has given up so much information to her that she holds the power to destroy the Shelbys. What is so compelling is that the series sees Grace cultivate that power, while falling in love with Tommy prevents her from wielding it.
Kennedy argues it’s difficult to imagine the series without Grace. She articulates clearly the problem with this approach:
More problematically, to kill Grace off would be to fall into the trope of “fridging” a character – that is, to kill her off to advance the hero’s (or, in this case, anti-hero’s) ongoing storyline by exploring the emotional repercussions of his girlfriend’s death. In the case of Peaky Blinders, that would extend to Inspector Campbell as well as Tommy. Furthermore, it would most likely lead to all future love interests for both characters being measured against her.
In fairness, the fridging didn’t happen until the third series, but Kennedy has accurately predicted the impact: It reduces Grace’s power as a character, and, by extension, the other female characters, and it has placed Tommy’s future love interests in the unenviable position of failing go meet the standard set by Grace. (And the rumblings of fans not especially interested in seeing the return of May Carlton underscores that the process began long before Knight began writing Series 4.)
Kennedy then adds this:
If she’s dead, my love for the series, and its special mix of high quality writing, cinematography, casting and music, will be thrown into question. Grace has been the fixed mark on which the story has turned. To keep her alive is to keep the integrity of the story alive.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this line: “the integrity of the story.” It’s the best statement of the Peaky Blinders predicament that I’ve seen. As a fan, I was led to believe that I had invested in a story about a powerful man and an equally powerful woman. That was the narrative that drove the first series and provided a backbone for the second. Tommy, the disciplined, ruthless gangster, simply couldn’t stop loving Grace. And why should he? She was his equal. (And let’s be honest: Cillian Murphy and Annabelle Wallis had great chemistry.)
As this blog documents, I’ve openly struggled with the treatment Grace’s character. How could she enter the story as a woman of agency and leave reduced to a social-climbing party girl who is not even shown being a parent to her own child? Who does that to a female character and yet receives praise for writing strong female characters? Both PopSugar and Decider have also praised Knight’s female characters. Another case in point in the Writers Guild Interview. There, Dominic Patten simply praises Knight for the women he writes. I’m ready for someone to interrogate him about that because I can’t make a case for it — and I’ve tried. Knight is routinely praised for writing women, but Peaky Blinders suggests that after he creates an interesting female character, he doesn’t know what to do with her: Polly is a mess; Linda is a religious bigot; Ada isn’t given anything to do; Lizzie is a character who defies logic. (I’ve blogged about that here.)
As a critic and student of literature, I absolutely respect the power of the author. (I’ve written about that here.)
But I’m also a fan who loves a good story. And we live in interesting times. As a friend put it, “I think I’ve accepted Grace is gone, and then something happens that stirs it all up again.” Take a look at Reddit or Tumblr (I recommend NomDeGuerreBlogs) or Twitter (I recommend @CillianMurphyFans), and she’s not alone. Again, I would attribute this, in part, to the poor handling of Grace’s death (no death scene, no body no funeral. Just a grieving Tommy.) Building on this is the rise of fanfic that continues a relationship abandoned by the show. Fanfic shows a dissatisfaction with a text, and the internet allows those stories to go viral and have a substantial audience.
So I want to make a case for bringing back Grace. Jessica Eve Kennedy is right: Without Grace, Peaky Blinders loses much of its integrity. In Series 1, we were promised a damaged, empowered female character who entered into an compelling relationship with a damaged, empowered male character. To see her character fridged puts Peaky Blinders in the unremarkable category of rehashing an old story: Handsome man loses his true love to create man-pain and provide the basis for an endless search for love again. But the handsome man avoids confronting the interesting (and very real) domestic issues of navigating a relationship with a complex and fully realized woman. We’ll just bring in this season’s woman in a red dress (the fact that Peaky Blinders “red-dress babes” has become an internet meme should trouble the show’s creators as should speculation that Series 4 will have Jessie Eden as the lucky, red-wearing babe).
That said, bring Grace back. Practically speaking, it will generate buzz and interest for Peaky Blinders. If there was excitement about Tommy’s choice at the end of Series 2, imagine would it would be like for the return of Grace. There’s a creative case to be made as well. One of the primary complaints from those of us on #TeamGrace was the way in which her death was handled. No body. No funeral. No agency. Her death was visible only through the suffering of Tommy Shelby. So, use it. Danny Whizz-bang died twice, so we’ve got a Peaky Blinders precedent. In Series 4, challenge Tommy Shelby in a way that doesn’t just involve guns and gangsters. Instead, let’s see how he handles a relationship with Grace, who in Series 1 was his equal in every way.
Give Grace another chance.
Publication date: 1 October 2016
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