When Steven Knight created Peaky Blinders he always said he knew exactly where it would end – and that was with the air raid sirens at the start of the Second World War.
By an extraordinary coincidence, the premiere of the sixth and final series of the gangster drama at Cineworld Broad Street on Thursday, January 24 was held on the same day that Russia was invading Ukraine, with sirens in Kyiv warning of potential air attacks.
Cillian Murphy – who plays gang leader Tommy Shelby – could not be present because he was in a Mexican desert playing the lead role in Christopher Nolan’s new film about J. Robert Oppenheimer. The US scientist oversaw the first atomic bomb being successfully detonated on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico – weeks before the August attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought an end to the Second World War.
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Also on the Thursday afternoon of the premiere, and by a longstanding arrangement, Peaky Blinders’ youngest star Harry Kirton, 23 – who plays Shelby brother Finn – was back in his home city for a photoshoot organized by BirminghamLive in the Peace Gardens off Bath Row .
We’d chosen the surviving tower of St Thomas’s Church (consecrated in 1829) as our location because of its connection to the Second World War when most of the church was destroyed by German bombs on December 11, 1940 during the Blitz.
Recognizing these parallels with events in Ukraine, Steven told BirminghamLive: “Peaky has always had some sort of resonance with what’s going on.
“The fact that sirens are going off in Europe is tragic and horrible.
“Speaking personally to the people of Ukraine, my heart goes out to them and I just hope we’re not heading for another war.”
Steven recently told BirminghamLive Peaky was “huge in China” even though it was “illegal” to watch it there.
And he thought one of them reasons why the drama had been such a hit worldwide was ‘by the orders of the bigger tellies’.
Being able to enjoy the cinematic visuals and heavy duty sound qualities of Peaky Blinders had been crucial, he said.
“I think it’s an underrated, under-observed fact that streamers and all of this revolution of television could only have happened because our tellies are bigger,” said Steven. “There would have been no point doing all of this production and value to watch it on a bulbous little thing in the corner of the room.”
Peaky Blinders was originally going to run to seven series, but the impact of Covid halted production of the sixth series days before it was due to begin in March 2020.
Just when the cameras began rolling again the following Spring, the date was sadly too late for the series’ leading female star Helen McCrory who died of breast cancer on April 16, 2021. The mother-of-two was just 52.
Deeming Helen to be irreplaceable, yet someone who would want the show to continue, Steven then made the decision to re-write the scripts. The first episode of series six not only cleverly works Aunt Polly into the story, but is dedicated to the actress who was so integral to the story she was third-billed in the opening credits of episode one when it premiered at Cineworld Broad Street on September 12, 2013.
Transmission of series five ended on September 22, 2019 with Aunt Polly handing in her resignation from the Shelby Company Limited, and, after a failed assassination attempt on Sir Oswald Mosley’s life, with under-pressure Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) pointing a gun at his own head.
Viewers who watch the first, foreboding episode of series six when it begins at 9pm on BBC1 on Sunday, February 27 will see what unfolds next.
Steven recently confirmed series six was the last – but instead of series seven a film would be shot in Birmingham at Digbeth Loc Studios, a new facility yet to be built which is due to be formally announced within weeks.
“I started writing the film, but most of it is in my head,” Steven said. “The process is a bit gradual, but planning to start shooting in 18 months.”
Steven has been hinting recently there could also be a spin-off series beyond that, but last month he told BirminghamLive the sirens and dawn of the Second World War would be “in the film”.
On Monday, January 17 he announced the world premiere of a dance theater production called Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby would be held at Birmingham Hippodrome and take the central character’s story back to Flanders in World War One, to establish how he became ‘ damaged ‘by war.
At the Hurst Street launch of the Rambert production, Steven said: “We will find things out about the Shelby family, and Tommy and Grace, that we did not know before.
“The war scenes will have a rhythm, too, a real bass sound.
“You will feel it in your chest and that’s what I think will move people quite strongly.
“All of that is so important to give it an industrial, Birmingham feel.”
Steven has also written several other projects which have embraced war and gangsters.
They include a forthcoming TV mini series called SAS: Rogue Heroes which is currently in post production and based on a book of the same name written by Ben Macintyre on the creation of the special forces.
Steven’s script for Allied (2016) was a war thriller directed by Robert Zemeckis and starred Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in a story about a Canadian intelligence officer encountering a female French Resistance fighter on a mission behind enemy lines – only for their future relationship to have profound implications.
In his 2013 film Hummingbird, which Steven wrote and directed, star Jason Statham played a ‘damaged’ ex-special forces soldier who takes on another man’s identity in London’s criminal underworld.
Steven also wrote David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises (2007) which explored sex trafficking and the violent Russian Mafia in London – the film earned star Viggo Mortensen a best actor nomination and this year actress Kristen Stewart has been nominated in the Academy Awards’ best actress category for Spencer, the story of Princess Diana’s feeling of isolation within the Royal Family – the 2022 Oscars will be held from 1am on March 28, BST.
No Cillian – but is he happier?
Thursday’s Peaky premiere at Cineworld Broad Street was the coldest of all six series launched with temperatures in the windchill at zero degrees – but it has never rained.
“It never rains on us, we’re blessed. The series is blessed,” said Steven.
“Thirty six hours (of drama). That’s a lot of time. I’m very proud, very pleased and we will continue with this (Peaky Blinders) story.”
This is how all of the premieres panned out – with series six recording temperatures 20C colder than the 2019 premiere for series five.
1. Cineworld Broad Street – September 12, 2013 – temperatures were 13C
2. Cineworld Broad Street – September 21, 2014 – temperature was 16C
3. Everyman Mailbox – May 4, 2016 – temperature was 16C
4. Cineworld Broad Street – October 30, 2017 – temperature was 6C
5. Birmingham Town Hall – July 18, 2019 – temperatures were 20C
6. Cineworld Broad Street – February 24, 2022 – 4C but windchill made it ‘feel like’ 0C
Leading star Cillian Murphy could not be present because he is working on his latest collaboration with film director Christopher Nolan, this time in the leading role of US nuclear bomb scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Steven said: “Cillian is filming in Mexico in the desert. It’s much warmer, but is he happier? I do not think so!
“Here in Birmingham we’re thinking of you (Cillian). By the order of the Peaky Blinders, we must keep going.”
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