'I know how it’s going to end': Peaky Blinders writer reveals series won't run past WWII
It is six years since Cillian Murphy rode onto our screens astride a huge black horse, casting a brooding stare around the bleak cobbled streets.
Now, with Peaky Blinders a worldwide hit, its creator Steven Knight is planning its demise.
“I know how it’s going to end. It will finish with the first air raid of the Second World War,” he says ahead of the first official Peaky Blinders festival in Digbeth this weekend.
Fans of the gritty period drama, part-filmed at Dudley’s Black Country Living Museum need not panic just yet. There are two more series planned, but it is a recognition that all good things will come to an end.
Knight, who says the series is loosely based around his parents’ childhood memories of life in inner-city Birmingham, admits that he never envisaged just how big it would become.
Walk around the bars of any city on a Friday night, and there is a good chance you will happen across some young men dressed in tweed, sporting a sharp 1920s-style haircut and a cloth cap.
“I’ve just read that last year Arthur entered the top10 most popular boys’ names in Britain, and that’s because of Arthur in Peaky Blinders,” says the 60-year-old who grew up in Birmingham.
“It’s fantastic, I love it.”
Thousands of Peaky fans are expected to descend on the Digbeth area of Birmingham this weekend for the first official Peaky Blinders Festival, and Knight is truly excited at the prospect.
One of the central themes will be an appearance by the Peaky Blinders ballet which appeared in Sunday’s episode, and Knight says it is unusual features such as this, contrasting high art with a working-class backdrop, that helps make Peakys such compelling viewing.
The fifth series of Peaky Blinders, which began last month, attracted a record audience of 6.2 million, and has seen gang boss Tommy Shelby, played by Murphy, achieve the respectability he has long craved, as a wealthy businessman and Labour MP, but he still struggles to shake off his rough-diamond reputation.
“The question is can somebody like that ever be accepted?” says Knight. “He might be wealthy, he might have the big house, but people are always aware of where he came from.”
Knight has already begun writing the sixth series, and is mulling over ideas for the finale. He wants to go out with a bang, but tantalisingly hints that the door may be left open for a return.
“Series seven will be the end of Peaky Blinders as we know it,” he says.
Some will be surprised by the decision that the drama will end at the start of the Second World War. Wouldn’t the Shelbys be running the black market operations around inner-city Birmingham as rationing begins to bite?
“Believe me, I’m tempted,” says Knight. “But the series was about life between the wars, it started at the end of the First World War and I wanted it to end at the beginning of the Second.”
The timeframe is central to the development of Tommy’s character. Early episodes portray him as a largely amoral character, solely motivated by money and power, but he gradually appears to develop a conscience as the series progresses.
“I wanted to portray him as a man who comes back dehumanised by the war,” he says. “Gradually over time we see that humanity return.”
The fifth series sees him drawn towards the engaging but sinister character of Sir Oswald Mosley, who was the real-life MP for Smethwick. But while Tommy gives Mosley the impression of being sympathetic to his cause, he is privately repulsed by his ideas.
Knight says that growing up he was a huge fan of Western films, and these left a big impression on him.
“That’s what I wanted to do with Peaky Blinders, I wanted to mythologise the past,” he says.
“Cowboys were 19th century agricultural labourers, but writers and film-makers had turned their characters into the Wild West.
“I didn’t want it to be an expose of how awful life was in Birmingham back then. I wanted to show people how fantastic, how wild and how lawless it all was.”
It certainly appears to have brought a touch of glamour to the region. Earlier this month it was reported that the ‘Peaky Blinders’ effect had contributed to a record 131 million visitors to the West Midlands last year, something which Knight says he is delighted about.
“What this has done is given people a reason to come and find out what this place is all about,” he says.
It is fair to say that television has not been kind to the West Midlands over the years. The few shows set in the region tended to portray local people as hapless, slow-witted losers – think Boon or The Grimleys – but Peaky Blinders has brought glamour to the region, contributing to record visitor numbers last year.
“There’s no point in West Midlands folk complaining,” says Knight bluntly. “It’s up to us to do something about it and portray the area in a positive light. If we don’t do it, nobody else is going to.”
“I think Birmingham and the West Midlands are not good at promoting ourselves, because we think people won’t be interested. I don’t understand it.”
He is full of praise for the Black Country Living Museum, which he says makes the perfect setting for much of the filming.
“It’s fantastic, we see it as our base now,” he says. “If more people are coming to see where Peaky Blinders is filmed, that’s great.”