Yes, there are spoilers.
In Series 2, Episode 1, Irene O’Donnell makes clear in a conversation with Donal what we’ve always known: “Tommy Shelby has a reputation to uphold.” Donal adds, “A reputation for not being scared of anything.”
How many times have we watched Tommy confront fear? Moving through the tunnels, facing Campbell, standing against Billy Kimber, doing business with Alfie Solomons, and having guns pointed at his head so many times it’s become a Tumblr meme. (Den of Geek‘s Louisa Mellor puts it best: “Funny. That was the first episode of Peaky Blinders in which Tommy Shelby didn’t have a gun pulled on him and now he’s scared.”)
But neither creator Steven Knight nor actor Cillian Murphy is interested in one-dimensional super heroes. And so they force Tommy to admit fear.
This is why Grace’s role in Series 3 is so important. Her absence in Series 2 allowed Tommy to operate unchecked as he moved his operation to London. But her return brings out a tenderness in him we have never seen. In Series 2, after they make love and Grace confesses that she and her husband are in London for fertility treatments, Tommy is initially angry before giving in to want: He touches her arm and says, “Can I see you again,” grace?” This Tommy Shelby is a stranger.
Series 3 explores this side of Tommy’s character. He is keyed up on his wedding day — and who wouldn’t be? In this case, it’s a joining of two incompatible families. There is the secret of Grace’s husband’s suicide. There are the Russians. There is the threat of Churchill and other powerful people There is the question of whether the Shelbys can ever be accepted by the class they aspire to join. There is the unpredictability of Arthur. The Shelby family is strong, but there’s always a sense it could come collapse.
That’s why Tommy’s confession to Grace is so fascinating: “And I’m scared, Grace. I’m scared for you. I’m scared for the baby. And this is how I am when I’m scared. It’s unfamiliar to you but not to me. I can fucking be scared and carry on. And it is not pleasant to look at and no joy to be around.”
This kind of openness on Tommy’s new part is unfamiliar territory for Peaky Blinders. Tommy has a new dimension — and the audience only learns this because of Grace. He trusts her and is trying to make his marriage work. In this scene, we see Tommy face the danger of emotional honesty.
That’s why Series 3 has such potential: because Tommy is wrestling with who he is at a number of levels. Scenes like this move him beyond being a stereotypical gangster.
And let’s hope their marriage is more than a stereotypical woman trying to change a man. Remember Grace’s words to Campbell: “I know what he is, sir.” And there are the questions around her husband’s death.
Murphy’s performance is nuanced as Tommy balances being a ruthless gangster with being a new husband and father. But it’s clear that through the course of this series, we will watch the ways in which Tommy’s approach to facing fear has changed. That’s why the scene in the field in 2.6 is so crucial: That moment encapsulates a moment of change for Tommy who moves from acceptance to having something to risk — a family of his own with a woman who understand him. Murphy’s performance is brilliant as he wordlessly shows all those emotions passing over Tommy’s face and through his body.
But he is alive, literally risen from his grave. Series 3 is about seeing how Tommy has changed. His reaction to fear will provide a compelling barometer.
Publication Date: 9 May 2016
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