Steven Knight isn't ready for the end of 'Peaky Blinders'

LONDON — Steven Knight knew something special was going on around his TV crime drama “Peaky Blinders” a few years ago when rapper Snoop ...


LONDON — Steven Knight knew something special was going on around his TV crime drama “Peaky Blinders” a few years ago when rapper Snoop Dogg asked to speak to him.

The pair met in a hotel room in London, Knight said in a recent interview, and chatted for three hours about the show, which was based on the real Shelby family who operated in Birmingham, central London. England, in the shadow of the First World War. “Peaky” reminded the rapper of how he got involved in gang culture in Los Angeles, Knight said.

“How the connection occurs between 1920s Birmingham and South Central, I don’t know,” said Knight, 62. “I think you just get lucky with certain projects and that resonates with people.”

Since its premiere in Britain in 2013, the tumultuous fortunes of the Shelby family, led by Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), and against the backdrop of the political and social turmoil of the interwar period, has resonated with greatly.

Now, after six seasons, the culture hit is coming to an end, with its final outing dropping on Netflix on Friday. (The season aired in Britain earlier this year.) While Season 6 is the show’s official conclusion, Knight followed a spin-off movie and other projects, framing the final season as “the end of the beginning.”

In a recent video interview, he discussed the development of “Peaky” and what he has planned for the future. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

When did you get the idea to dramatize the story of the Peaky Blinders?

These stories were told to me as a child by my parents because they grew up in Small Heath in Birmingham, and so they kind of experienced that world. When they told me stories, I always thought it would make a big drama.

I first thought of doing it as a TV series probably 20 years ago, and I’m really grateful that it didn’t happen back then because I don’t think there was the technology to do him justice. Then I was writing movies, and when television started to become what it is today, someone said, do you have any ideas for television? It was an idea that I kind of had in the bottom drawer.

Why did these stories resonate with you as a child, did you see them as heroes?

Yes. My dad’s uncles were illegal bookmakers known as the Peaky Blinders, so he looked up to them as a kid – every time he saw them he was terrified and in awe, they were heroes to him. He would see them in immaculate clothes with razor blades in their hats and drinking whiskey from jam jars.

And I know those streets, I know the pubs, I know the Garrison pub – the real one – and when I wanted to do ‘Peaky’ I decided to keep the mythology rather than sound like what was it really like?

I wanted to keep it as if they were seen through the eyes of a child. The horses are all beautiful. The clothes are all beautiful. I was a big fan of westerns; it’s like a western, and that’s how I wanted to keep it.

Do you think the show has changed the way Birmingham is viewed? In Britain at least, the city and the accent have often been decried.

Part of the challenge at the start was trying to make Birmingham – which used to be a blank canvas at best – cool. To give it a story. Liverpool has the Beatles and Manchester has the nightclub scene, Birmingham never really had anything.

There was a suggestion at the beginning to move the story to London or another city, and I said no. I think the fact that Birmingham was a blank canvas helped because there were no preconceived ideas.

According to people I know from Birmingham, when they go overseas and talk, people instantly mention ‘Peaky Blinders’. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s always good. I think it gave Birmingham an identity that maybe it didn’t have, just in the media.

The show could easily have been ahistorical, but you weave in contemporary social movements and political events throughout the seasons. Why was this important to you?

If you put something in the 1920s, if you look at what actually happened historically, that gives you a huge amount of material to use.

I haven’t looked at the history books because I think, first of all, they don’t really tell working class history anyway, and also they tend to look at trends and the patterns that ultimately made everything that happened inevitable when it wasn’t.

If you look at the newspapers and wherever you can get word of mouth accounts of how life was, it’s so fascinating. And if you can work that into the work, it just gives it — even if it’s very heightened and mythological — a real basis.

The show takes place in a time frame similar to “Downton Abbey”. As in this series, British period dramas usually show working-class characters as servants.

Servants or funny characters or whatever. What I wanted to do was have these working-class characters where we weren’t looking at them and going, “Isn’t that a shame? Wasn’t that awful? Wasn’t their life so awful? Their lives are incredible, romantic and tragic.

A constant criticism of the show is its depiction of violent masculinity. What do you think of claims that “Peaky” glorifies violence?

I think there’s a lot going on. First of all, you describe life in the 20s and 30s and it was very different – to suggest that people behaved the way they behave now would be like saying they didn’t smoke. But also, the way I see it, any act of violence in “Peaky” has a very big consequence. If they have scars, they stay scarred.

There is a scene in one of the early series where Arthur [a Shelby family member] is in a boxing ring and kills someone because he loses his temper. In the following season, this boy’s mother shows up at the garrison with a gun and wants revenge for what happened. In other words, it’s not like it’s parting violence. All violence has a consequence.

The show is coming to an end, but you talked about spin-offs, including a movie. Why do you want to keep coming back to the world of the series?

This is partly because it seems to be growing, not shrinking, in terms of viewership. And I’m interested in concluding during World War II. So the movie will be set during this war, and then the movie itself will dictate what happens next.

But I’m pretty interested in keeping this world in the 40s and 50s and seeing where it goes because as long as there’s an appetite then why not? I probably won’t write them all, but the world will be set.

Tommy Shelby is a deeply complicated character. How did you want his story to end?

I still imagine before episode 1 season 1 he put a gun to his head and decided, “Well, I’m not going to kill myself, I’m just going to do whatever I want.” There’s a great quote from Francis Bacon about how, since life is so meaningless, we might as well be extraordinary. Tommy doesn’t think there’s a purpose, he doesn’t think there’s a purpose, he doesn’t think there’s a destination, he just does those things.

Then over the course of six seasons, it gradually comes back to life. It is as if something frozen is thawing out, but obviously this process is very painful. My take is that Season 6 asks the question: Can Tommy Shelby be redeemed? And I think that question was answered in the last 10 minutes.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Steven Knight isn't ready for the end of 'Peaky Blinders'
Steven Knight isn't ready for the end of 'Peaky Blinders'
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