Peaky Blinders season six: Cillian Murphy and Peaky Blinders cast reflect on final series, fans and legacy of Helen McCrory

As the sixth and final series of BBC Brummie gangster show Peaky Blinders comes to our TV screens this week, the cast members have been reflecting on the show’s enormous popularity, it’s die-hard fans, and the legacy of Helen McCrory.

By Gary Flockhart & Danielle de Wolfe
Monday, 21st February 2022, 7:28 pm
Updated Monday, 21st February 2022, 7:33 pm

Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight said “it’s been an amazing journey” as the Bafta-award-winning crime drama returns on Thursday evening (February 24).

The show follows the lives of the notorious Shelby family, a gang rising to prominence in post-First World War Birmingham – and nearly two and a half years since the last series aired, Peaky Blinders’ popularity no signs of abating, with its loyal army of followers once again chomping at the bit for its return.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” says show creator Steven Knight, who recently unveiled a striking 42-foot high mural of the series’ gang leader, Tommy Shelby, on the side of the Old Crown pub in Digbeth, Birmingham.

Cillian Murphy stars Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders.

“The thing has snowballed and, even now, more and more people are discovering it, which is the great thing about streaming – it doesn’t have its day and disappear.”

And disappear it will not, as the Shelby’s are set to make their stage debut as part of the upcoming stage adaptation, Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby.

Written and adapted for the stage by Knight, the show is due to open at Birmingham Hippodrome on September 27, 2022, before heading out on a UK tour which includes a five-night stint at Edinburgh's Festival Theatre from February 28, 2023.

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Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby stage show coming to Edinburgh
Sophie Rundle stars as Ada Shelby in the sixth season of Peaky Blinders.

Not only that, but Knight has previously noted his desire to transfer the Peaky Blinders’ tale onto the big screen. “Peaky – in this incarnation – comes to an end,” says Knight, “but we’re doing a film which will also carry on the family and the stories into the Second World War.”

As optimistic as the show’s creator is when it comes to the future of Peaky Blinders, the final series is accompanied by a distinct and undeniably sombre undertone. Describing the “challenge” of continuing the Peaky Blinders’ story following the death of actress Helen McCrory during shooting, the writer says he “knew that she would have wanted [it] to continue”.

“The loss of such an incredible human being is the main thing. The loss of such an incredible performer is awful,” adds Knight.

McCrory, who played Shelby family matriarch Polly Gray in the hit BBC One show, died from cancer last April, aged 52. Starring in the Harry Potter franchise and wife of Homeland actor, Damien Lewis, McCrory was “right at the heart” of the Peaky Blinders tale according to Knight. “There are three central characters – she was one of them.”

It’s a sentiment shared by fellow actor, Cillian Murphy, in a recent interview with Variety, as he described the cast and crew’s “determination” to make this a “special series”. Going on to note the way in which series six “simply won’t be the same” without the actress, Murphy describes McCrory’s passing as an “enormous loss to the whole acting community.”

“I think the whole series is really in tribute to her and to honour her,” says Murphy. “Her presence and her character’s presence are very much still felt in the series, and it is very much part of Tommy’s journey in the season.”

Describing McCrory as a “fundamental” part of the show, co-star Rundle, who plays McCrory’s on-screen daughter, says returning to set without the actress was a “baffling” experience. Leaving a maternal hole both on-screen and off, the actress says the cast and crew have ensured she has “remained an enormously integral part of the show, even in absence”.

A character who has constantly strived to distance herself from her family’s unsavoury reputation over the past decade, Ada Thorne (nee Shelby) can be found taking the reins from her late mother this time around. A move “born out of necessity” according to Sophie Rundle, Ada’s attempts to emulate her mother’s firm hand in dealing with the Shelby clan’s unruly behaviour comes as a result of needing to “fill the gap”.

“She was a kid when we started series one, but I think that when you grow up, you kind of re-meet your parents,” says the actress.

“You have to form a new relationship as two adults in a room, rather than just the kid and the parental figure, and she does that with Polly. She’s a mother, she’s been through her own journey, and then in Polly’s absence, I think she takes on a lot of her characteristics because actually she realises how much he admired them.”

A series that’s also set to star Line Of Duty actor Stephen Graham, Knight described the popular Liverpudlian actor as one of the show’s true shining lights, adding: “I really wanted to use him as a character and there was a particular Scouse character that becomes part of the story – and who else would you cast?”

As for the lasting legacy of Peaky Blinders, Rundle says that part of the show’s appeal remains its ability to highlight the grittier side of history.

“It’s not all just tea parties and corsets,” says the actress, reflecting on the working class narrative Peaky Blinders is built upon. “It’s just people, you know? It’s fun, and you can have fun with it – and that’s what Peaky has always done.”

Peaky Blinders Series 6 starts February 27 on BBC One.

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