Peaky Blinders: Some Thoughts on Steven Knight’s Remarks to the Writers Guild Foundation

Steven Knight speaks with Dominic Patten at the Writers Guild Foundation

Yes, there are spoiler for Peaky Blinders Series 3 and Series 4.

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes

You just might find

You get what you need

The Rolling Stones

On August 2, 2016, Steven Knight spoke with Dominic Patten at the Los Angeles Writers Guild Foundation Lecture.  evenstar297 gives the following summary on Reddit:

I attended the Writers Guild Foundation and met Steven Knight tonight. A fellow Team Grace fan (not me) bravely asked in a room full of writers why oh why did he kill her off. At first he responded, “well did I?” then he chuckled and said, “Well….its accommodating schedules and its difficult with a big ensemble….but ultimately I couldn’t have Tommy in a happy domestic situation with the woman he loves”.

My initial thought was Annabelle had a filming conflict with PB and King Arthur/The Mummy which is why he killed her off in ep2 b/c when she “comes back” in ep5 its clear they filmed that’s scene along with scenes from ep2. Also I think given how large the cast is and there are only 6 episodes, I think he feels he needs to kill off some to make room for new characters plus its expensive to have recurring characters on screen with the protagonist so that could’ve been a factor as well. However that doesn’t justify him killing off Grace IMHO.

EDIT 8/3: In speaking w/another person who was there, I think that Steven Knight saying he had to “accommodate” and its a big ensemble had nothing to do with Annabelle but possibly with Tom Hardy. Steven shared an anecdote (that should be in the WGF podcast as the moderator asked him about working w/TH) that Tom is going to be working on a film of Steven’s but in exchange, Steven is working on Taboo with Tom, Tom’s dad and Sir Ridley Scott. Paul Anderson has given interviews about how Tom was the one responsible for getting him a role in The Revenant. Ergo, I think Tom did Peaky but in exchange Charlotte Riley (Tom Hardy’s wife) will be coming back. I think that might be the real reason (this is my assumption) which is why it was such a vague/weak response.

Also the fact that he teased about Grace possibly being alive acknowledges the fact that he’s aware many fans think she might be. During the event he did say something interesting (spoiler) which was when he was talking about developing Polly was, “by the end of s1 you understand that its about Tommy and Polly and how he wants one thing, she wants another”. IMHO I think this is the crux of the show so these two characters aside, they are all fair game as to who can get axed.

Now here’s info on upcoming Peaky Blinders (this was asked to Steven Knight after the event was over). Spoilers:

He’s currently writing series 4, Jessie Eden will def be in it, It will take place in 1926, Series 5 may not necessarily be the last one according to SK (all depends on the BBC), May is definitely coming back (but considering what SK said about Tommy being happy and in love, I don’t think they’ll have a happy ending either)

Knight’s comments are important for several reasons.

One, he again reiterates that Grace is gone.  I’d accepted this after 3.5 and even more fully after the Deadline interview with the cast, but this makes it truly official.  He also reinforces Cillian Murphy’s comments to GoldDerby that Tommy really needs to be with someone.

Peaky Blinders, Series 2 Source:

Two, they confirm that May Carlton is coming back.  Having completed my period of Grace Mourning, I’m okay with that.  If we’re going to see Tommy with anyone that isn’t Grace, then I’m voting for May.  (Tatiana made me appreciate May’s character more.)

Here’s why.

I see this is having the potential to set up some interesting storytelling.  I suspect the marriage won’t be a happy one – try to imagine May’s “ruthless people,” the ones who laid bets about Tommy stealing the silver, accepting him.  How will she handle that?  Like Tommy, she’s going to get what she wants, but there’s no indication it will make her happy.  This ties into Knight’s ultimate concern as a storyteller:  Is it possible for the Shelbys to change their social class?  A marriage to May allows Knight to continue to explore that story in ways that a marriage to Grace couldn’t.  And it raises another question related to class:  What happens to someone who marries beneath their social class?  So Knight’s going to look at this issue from two very different perspectives.

Behind the Scenes, Peaky Blinders, Series 3 (Source: Robert Viglasky)
Behind the Scenes, Peaky Blinders, Series 3 (Source: Robert Viglasky)

And since this is Tommy’s story and an exploration of masculinity, it makes sense to contrast Tommy and Grace’s happy marriage with Tommy and May’s unhappy one.  (I still would have enjoyed seeing more of the happy marriage, let me add.)  As a fan, it isn’t the story I wanted, but as a student of literature, I’m intrigued.  As I’ve written before:  This is Steven Knight’s story, and he gets to do what he wants, even if I don’t like it.

I also suspect there’s the potential for Grace’s Ghost to be a continuing presence in Peaky Blinders.  The foundation for that possibility was  laid in the 3.5 khlysty scene and Tommy’s speaking to Grace’s picture in 3.6.  It may also be tied to the Shelbys’ Romany heritage — remember Polly’s “part that dreams” in Series 2.  So I think this could be interesting.  Grace may be gone, but her influence will continue — hopefully, in some morphine-fueled dreams.  In addition, she is the mother of Tommy’s son.  May can never change that.

Steven Knight’s comments that Peaky Blinders is, ultimately, the story of Tommy and Polly are interesting.  I’m reminded of a comment Cillian Murphy made in an early interview that Polly and Tommy’s relationship isn’t unlike that of a married couple.  (When I find it, I’ll link to it.)  After Knight clarified that, it makes sense, and their conflict over Michael’s future becomes a much clearer point of tension, especially given that the speculation that Michael will attempt to take Tommy’s place in the business and all the allusion to The Godfather.  But the importance of Tommy and Polly’s relationship hasn’t been apparent from the series itself — and it should be given that it’s a thematic crux.  (Maybe it’s my fault because I was too busy falling for Tommy and Grace to see the real story.)  And it also means that Knight needs to get serious about clarifying what’s happening with Polly’s character.

Steven Knight and Dominic Patten at the Writers Guild Foundation
Steven Knight and Dominic Patten at the Writers Guild Foundation

I would add one note:  I suspect Steven Knight hasn’t had much experience with the kind of fandom Peaky Blinders has generated. His treatment of Grace’s character to draw in viewers and to create suspense and then his decision to kill her character without providing closure suggests he’s still not getting it.  His comment that “maybe she’s still alive” indicates he still doesn’t respect the level of investment fans had in Tommy and Grace.  (He’s said repeatedly that he doesn’t use social media.)  So I’m disappointed that he doesn’t yet get this.  He needs to because I suspect Taboo will take fandom of his writing to an entirely new level.

So I’m ready to see what happens — and I’m glad to hear he’s writing Series 4 and that there’s a possibility the series will continue beyond five seasons.  I’ve found Peaky Blinders to be an incredibly rich piece of art.  When I look at how much I’ve written about this series (and I’ve got more ideas), I’m surprised — frankly, I often ask myself if this is normal.  But I haven’t found a text that engages me like this since I wrote my dissertation, and I intend to keep looking at what’s there.

That’s a long way of saying that I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m in.

Publication Date:  3 August 2016

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