I will not equivocate on my opinion
I have always worn it on my sleeve
— Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton: An American Musical
Yes, there are spoilers.
One thing that’s clear as Series 3 of Peaky Blinders has ended is that Grace’s death has been the source of considerable criticism, including from me. In my review of the finale, I questioned both the effectiveness of Grace’s death in terms of storytelling and the ambiguities surrounding her death. (If she’s dead, tell us!) As a fan, it left me wanting something that would never happen, and I didn’t make the necessary emotional adjustments so that I could appreciate the rest of the series.
Since then, two things have happened. First, I’ve had time to re-evaluate; second, Nancy Tartaglione’s Deadline interview with Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson, and Annabelle Wallis has been published. In this post, I’m going to address that article and explain why it’s important, and I want to reiterate writer Steve Knight‘s freedom to do with his show whatever he wants — even if I don’t like it.
The Fans Aren’t the Only Ones in the Dark — So Are the Actors
I wish this interview had been released sooner because it answered many questions, and it confirmed that Grace is well and truly dead. (I’d reluctantly accepted that fact in 3.5, but this interview sealed it.) But here’s what most interested me in the actors’ comments: They don’t know what to expect, either. Consider the answers when Tartaglione asks, “What makes Steve’s writing special for you? Does he surprise you?”
Cillian Murphy: But he’s very unafraid to be unpredictable which is great. Safe writing is the most boring way to work as an actor and I think the audience doesn’t appreciate safe writing. But he’s very, very bold and confident and I hope he will keep being bold and unpredictable in the next two. (He reiterates this in his Gold Derby interview.)
Paul Anderson: Joe Cole (John Shelby) and I have these conversations of trying to guess what’s going to happen in the coming episodes. We don’t get all six at once so we try to guess the outcome. When we were doing Season 2, we would speak about Season 3 and what Steve has in store and we’ve never got it right. Nothing we’ve ever said has ever happened.
Helen McCrory: He takes you in directions you really don’t expect.
Annabelle Wallis: I found out [about Grace dying] just before we started the season. I was surprised, I knew Grace was always a character who was gonna be… she’s the emotional pivot, the element of mystery in many ways of that show. (I want to address Annabelle Wallis’s comments in a separate blog post.)
So for those of us stunned (and angered) by Knight’s decision to kill Grace, remember that the cast, those who know the characters better than anyone, are equally surprised by the twists in the story. (For those of you hoping for Grace’s return, I think given the actors’ comments as well ethos of Peaky Blinders that it’s simply impossible. Grace may have a cameo in some opium-fueled dream, but the character is gone.)
And Steven Knight Gets To Do That
Ultimately, the artist has to be free to create art. Period. If they work to please an audience, then that’s a compromise. The writer’s relationship to the story and to the characters comes first; the audience has to trust that, even if what they want is in conflict with the artistic integrity of a work. Mark Twain said, “My job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That is, art sometimes gives us what we want (or need), and sometimes it forces us to confront things we’d prefer to ignore.
In this case, I tried to ignore Grace’s death for as long as I could, but in the end, I had to accept it and trust its place in Knight’s story.
In the Deadline interview, Cillian Murphy explains what Steven Knight focused on in Series 3:
It’s showing Tommy at his most emotionally and mentally and psychologically delicate state that we’ve ever seen him. And I think that scene at the end of the series where he appears to basically betray his family is the culmination of that and he’s back to being once again the ultimate outsider.
So I think what he went through in the series emotionally, and physically, myself and the director Tim (Mielants) we always wanted to really, really push it and that’s why I think Tommy has been altered sort of irrevocably throughout this. Sort of because of what he suffered, what he went through physically and losing his wife and almost losing his son and now basically he’s left alone. That last shot you just see him standing in that big empty house and everybody’s gone.
Some of us wanted a love story; Steven Knight instead told the story of a man who is pushed beyond what he thought he could endure. Ultimately, we were as surprised as the actors reading the script. And since Peaky Blinders is Steven Knight’s story, he gets to do that.
If the actors can trust him, so can I.
I began with the quote from Hamilton for two reasons. First, I saw the musical last month, and it absolutely blew me away. Ultimately, this is what Steven Knight has done: He has not equivocated on the story he is telling. Second, I suspect some of you will disagree with me, which is fine. Art should start passionate conversations. That’s the point.
Publication Date: 19 June 2016
Guest Blog Posts
•J. F. Alvarez’s “Peaky Blinders: The Godfather Prequel?”
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