Final Blog: Peaky Blinders and Its Women

Shelby Family (from left to right). Esme Shelby and her husband John Shelby, Ada Thorne, Finn Shelby, Thomas ‘Tommy” Shelby, Elizabeth “Polly” Gray, Michael Gray, Arthur Shelby and his wife Linda Shelby.

Peaky Blinders is a TV series that takes places in an industrial Birmingham, England after the end of WW1. The story is about the ascension of a gang called the Peaky Blinders led by Thomas Shelby and his family. The gang is known to cut their enemies’ eyes with razors blades hidden in the peak of the caps, thus the name of Peaky Blinders. Going from practicing basic racketing and illegal sports gambling in the Small Heath district in Birmingham to running the gang as multi-millionaire company with business partners such as Al Capone, we assist to the clever ways Tommy tries to quench his ever growing ambition thirst no matter what it takes.

With the clothes, cars, types of guns, and the many factories darkening the sky with their smoke, the show makes a good job at making us feel the Great War aftermath; not only with the visuals, but also with the particular socio-political context of that time. Indeed, the setting in which the Blinders live evolves season after season with the occurrence of new events/periods influence the game such as the The Prohibition or the Great Crash of 1929, and the apparition of new actors as time passes such as the Communists, the Unionists, the Italian mafia, the Irish Republican Army, the Russians Royalists, Nazis and Fascists towards the last season, as well as the Feminists.

The Great War aftermath was an important period for women. The contribution and sacrifices of women were really appreciated during the war. Before the war, the suffragettes were actively fighting for women’s rights, especially when it came for the right to vote, and their efforts were concretized in 1918, in the final year of the war with the Representation of the People Act of 1918 that allowed women over 30 who were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register. In November 1918, women over 21 were also finally allowed to be elected as member of Parliament under the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act of 1918. Then, in December 1919, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 became law; it allowed women to enter professions such as in law and in civil services as well as allowing the universities to admit women to degrees [1][2].

Jessie Eden (Charlie Murphy)

Already at the beginning of the 1920s, women’s’ situation improved significantly compared to before the war. Yet, there was still a lot of work to do; married women were still not allowed to work, not all women were able to vote yet and there were still jobs women could not do, such as diplomacy. In the TV series, Jessie Eden was portrayed as one of the women who was leading the fight for women’s emancipation, and better treatment of the working people in Birmingham. This character is inspired by the real Jessie Eden that lived in Birmingham during the same time. She was affiliated with the communist party and she lead the women in her section during the General Strike of 1926[3]. In the series, her confidence and her power is shown whenever she confronts Tommy without being the most powerful individual of the city. She fights for what she believes in and nobody is going to stop her. Even the women of the Shelby family, strong women too, are in some way fascinated by her confidence and her absence of fear in front of adversity.

What makes the show series great is complexity of each character in the series. They all have their distinctive personality and they all face their own challenges. The women in Peaky Blinders are all portrayed as strong figures.

Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis)

One of them is Grace Burgess. She appeared in the first season of the show as a simple Irish women who showed up at The Garrison Pub, a bar that is often frequented by the Peaky Blinders, to get the job of a barmaid. She was turned down at first but her singing talents won the landlord over who gave her the job. At their first encounter, Tommy and she were already intrigued by each other. It was indeed hard to understand why such a well-behaved, educated women would want to come to Birmingham to work in such a pub. Well, it turns out that she was actually working for the Birmingham police as an undercover agent and her job was to investigate the Shelby family. In the end, she managed to gain Tommy’s full trust, which is hard to get, and he even offered her a job to keep the records of the Shelby Company Limited. Even the mastermind of the Shelby empire did not see through her, Tommy actually developed feelings for her. She discovered incriminating information on the actions of the company, that she gave to the inspector on the case, Inspector Campbell. Yet, as Tommy fell in love with her, she also fell in love with him; she actually managed to protect the Shelby family. Another example of someone, that fights for what, or who, they believe in.

Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle)

An another woman that has an impact in the show is Ada Thorne (born Shelby). She is the forth and the only female of the Shelby siblings. At the beginning of the series, she is in a secret relationship with Freddie Thorne, an old friend of Tommy and also a Communist agitator. As Freddie is chased by the police from Birmingham because of his actions, and Ada is found pregnant with Freddie’s child. Her Aunt Polly (we will come to her), was about the bring her to Cardiff to get an abortion, yet Freddie proposes to her, and they get married. Tommy was against this relationship, as he was uncertain for Ada safety; he even threatened Freddie, yet their romantic relationship did not end. Like the other women described, she is not afraid to do what she believes is correct and just. She is a strong women and she is able to stand for herself. One her iconic scene is when the Peaky Blinders were about to fight a rival gang, the Birmingham Boys, which would have resulted in a bloodshed, and she just walk with her baby in the No Man’s Land; she managed to convince all the men not to kill each other as she said that she and her baby would stay in the middle; she made them think of the people that are waiting for them to come home. Bold move we can say, but it actually worked. Another iconic scene is when she invites Jessie Eden to have a drink, yet the bars did not allow women at the time. It didn’t matter, she went to the bar with Jessie and they both drank their whisky and pint of beer respectively as they discussed important matters.

Polly Gray (Helen McCrory)

And the woman with the most influence in the show is Polly Gray (Aunt Polly). She is the matriarch of the Shelby family, and as she says it, she is the “heart of the family”. She is the one who took care of her nephews (Tommy’s siblings) after their mother died and their father left them. When the boys went to France to fight in the war, she is the one that took care of the Blinders. When the boys came back and took control, she still held an important place in the company as she is the only one in which Tommy confides in. It is evident that he needs her help and advice to be able to run the company and the Peaky Blinders. At the same time, she is also the treasurer of the company. She is also present on Ada’s life as she helps her with her baby, and gives her life advices. Also, Polly is the one that managed to reconcile Tommy and Ada as she married Freddie. She is a smart, strong independent women; she does not hesitate to do what she thinks is best for her family and herself. Throughout the show she goes through challenges and difficult times, especially when it comes to her son Michael, which proves that she puts her family before her. She is the proof that a woman can also be a leader, especially for her time.

There are a lot more strong feminine figures in the show that I did not name in this article like Lizzie Stark, who deserves a honorable mention; I’ll let you discover her and how important she is, on your own. The complexity of the characters is what makes to show so good and the strong presence of women is not only a plus, but also an important aspect of the TV show. I hope I did a good job in introducing this series to you, and I hope you will enjoy it.

Written by Dan Pasconi

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