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Interviews

Writer Stephen Knight talks Peaky Blinders Series 3

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Peaky Blinders returns to BBC Two soon for a third season. Once again starring Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy the series promises to be just as excellent as the previous two. Here Stephen Knight, series creator, discusses what we can expect to see.

This period in history is scarcely represented on UK television screens. What was your motivation and inspiration for creating Peaky Blinders?
The inspiration was motivated by stories I was told by my parents who lived in Small Heath, Birmingham and both had connections with illegal bookmakers as many people had in those days. My mum was a bookies’ runner at nine years old and my dad’s uncles were Peaky Blinders and gangsters. He told me lots of stories about how they looked, how they dressed and how people felt about them and how life was in those days, so I always felt this was a drama waiting to be told.

Where did we leave Tommy Shelby in series two?
At the end of series two we see Tommy has escaped death by the skin of his teeth, to fight another day. There was a threat hanging over him, that a favour would be called in and we find him in series three two years later when that favour is just about to be called in. It’s a huge imposition and it takes him to places no self- respecting gangster would normally go.

What sort of man is Tommy at the start of series three?
Tommy’s trajectory is always upwards, but it’s never smooth and never simple. He has to do things at the request of some very powerful people and all of it illegal as ever. The consequence of his success will be huge. Already he has made a lot of money and his living standard is unrecognisable from when we first met him at the beginning of series one and that trajectory will continue. His is a cash business and he is converting that cash into objects.

What are the main themes of series three?
The themes that are prevalent are power; the abuse of power and the effect that power has on Tommy and the family. It is also about how everyone is trying to escape where they are and it’s a question of, ‘are any of them able to escape?’ Can any of them get away from their past, the history, and in a sense their destiny? It’s about aspiration and if you look at it sociologically, it’s about people from the working classes in England and can they ever, no matter how much money or material wealth they have accumulated, ever escape where they are from.

What’s in store for Arthur in this series?
I’m hoping Arthur’s storyline will be a surprise to people because he was like a shot down aircraft at the end of series two and it’s not what people will be expecting. I can say that he is not on the road to hell in a handcart. He’s found some sort of redemption but again the question is, will it work? Will he be able to escape from who he has always been and what fate seems to have in store for him?

Peaky Blinders Season Three

The season three cast gather together for a formal portrait.

Where did we leave Polly in series two and what can we expect for her character in series three?
Polly had just carried out an act of vengeance at the end of series two, which I’m sure the audience applauded (I know I did). She got rid of someone who had been particularly awful to her. She isn’t someone who deals with guilt well and she is still carrying that. She’s quite a religious woman and in series three we see how that faith is challenged – does she stick with it or does she abandon it and of course she meets a man which sort of changes everything.

Michael had not crossed the line in the sand that makes him a true Peaky Blinder. How does this series test his decisions?
There is huge jeopardy involved in Tommy’s business and the emerging situation that develops throughout series three make it a necessity for all members of the family to do things they don’t want to do. Michael comes at this from a surprising angle and is required to approach that line and whether or not he crosses it is to be seen.

In series two John was trying to be more his own man. How has he grown in this series?
In series three John wants to establish himself and not just as third fiddle in the family hierarchy. An opportunity does present itself and John is more than capable of filling the shoes of anyone who chooses to absent himself. He is encouraged by his wife, Esme (played by Aimee-Ffion Edwards) who also wants a different life, but rather than aspiring to a life of wealth and big houses, Esme is missing the life she used to have as a gypsy traveller. There are real pressures on John to keep his life together as well as remain part of the Shelby family.

You’ve said in the past that series one was opium, series two was cocaine, what is series three?
Opium was essentially used by people who were trying to alleviate acute pain and that seemed reflective of the tone of the first series. The second series was cocaine reflected by the wildness and the madness of the early 1920s. People were revving it up and getting into gear. In the third series I think it is power and the effect that has on people; how they respond to it and how intoxicated they can become as a result of it. Even though the other drugs are still around in series three, it is more of an existential thing for Tommy.

Peaky Blinders Cillian Murphy

Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby

When you sat down to write the third series had you already mapped out the journey or do you approach each series individually?
I never map things out in advance. It would be better if I did and more economical in terms of time, but I’ve found that if you work out a plot line from beginning to end, at the beginning it becomes very rational. I prefer to just start writing because I find the process of writing offers all sorts of random possibilities that are much more like life – far-fetched and unbelievable.

Describe the character of Father Hughes? Is this Tommy’s toughest adversary yet?
I would describe him as the most evil character that has ever appeared in Peaky. He is part of a very powerful group. He represents various pressures of the time and a particular sort of self-justification and righteousness that the Shelby’s have always fought against. He is more of a spiritual authority than a political authority therefore he is more of a difficult enemy for the Shelbys’ to take on.

What does Paddy Considine bring to the role of Father John Hughes?
To get Paddy to play this part was sensational because he is just so, so good. And one of the great pleasures of this series is that I know I can write Cillian and Paddy together and just know that it is going to happen. It is brilliant.

How much of Alfie Solomons was on the page and how much did Tom Hardy bring to the role?
On the page is the ‘stuff’; the stuff he’s got to do and he has to make it from A to B and with Tom in particular, almost exclusively, there is a lot of improvisation that is very exciting. But the most important thing is that Tom arrives with the character and the character is so manufactured in the moment that it is fantastic to watch his performances unfold.

The opening of the series is multi layered. We have the backdrop of the wedding; a deal going down with Russians, but all in front of the bride’s gathered guests. Was this always your vision of Tommy’s happy day?
Tommy’s wedding is a typical Birmingham wedding; a big fight and a family dispute. I like the idea of kicking everything off together in the same place and weddings are great for that and technically it is a great way to meet the family again. I wanted to explore the idea of when business meets family, which has essentially been what Peaky Blinders has been about right from the beginning. Can the two be separated and what we see in this series is how the two collide in the first episode.

Are there things that you already have planned for the Shelby family further down the line?
I want the family trajectory to continue upwards and for them to become wealthier and more powerful. The only thing I want to do is for Tommy to become knighted; to become Sir Thomas Shelby for various nefarious reasons! But I just want to shine the light on the 1920s and hopefully the 1930s with this family. The only clear thought I have for series four, if there should be one, is to include the general strike of 1926.

Has there been a particular scene that you have written for Peaky Binders that, on seeing the final version turned out to be better than you ever imagined?
The execution scene at the end of series two where everything came together beautifully, brilliantly directed and a brilliant performance by everyone concerned, particularly Cillian. That is the scene that I had most satisfaction with of anything I have ever written.

When you created the series, was Tommy Shelby always your central character?
It always began with that central character of Tommy. He was always going to be the second oldest so that it was not a natural thing for him to be in charge, proving that he is charge for a reason.

Peaky-Blinders-Season-3-1

Another season three shot.

How did the brothers and Aunt Polly develop around him?
Aunt Polly was a real person; my dad’s auntie and she was very, very formidable. I never met her but I came from a big family with lots of brothers and sisters so just dealing with how people get along is quite interesting. It was natural to use that experience in the story.

How have the actors grown into their roles over the course of the three series?
Cillian began with Tommy as a man with a mission; someone who was going to change things right from the opening scene in episode one, series one. He was in a situation where, following the First World War, he felt dead already and so he could break the rules. He was broken by what he saw and what he experienced. He could have made a choice to kill himself but he decided to carry on. In series two he experienced success and getting what he always thought he wanted and now in series three he is questioning that. I think Cillian mapped that out beautifully all the way through from the first to the last moment of this series so far. He is such a fine executor of a character’s progress. It’s a long process in television, unlike in film where you can really get your hands round a character quickly.

The character of Arthur Shelby is fractured and torn. How has Paul Anderson reacted to the various twists and turns his character has taken?
Paul Anderson, particularly in series three, is playing a character at a crossroads in his life because of the woman he has married and is having to examine his loyalties to her and the Shelby family. He really has to explore if he’s able to escape the world he’s living in and considers if he is fit to do anything else in life. Paul has tracked that beautifully in his portrayal of Arthur, in not just this series but throughout.

Polly is such an important character within the family. How does Helen McCrory make this role her own?
The entire show is almost like a dance where the characters all go hand in hand and always there with them, between them, arm in arm, is Polly. Helen McCrory is simply the mistress of all of this. She is so good at being scary; being formidable; being vulnerable and especially in this series we see this vulnerability much more at the fore. It’s a real joy to have actors of this calibre to take these characters on.

How much are you involved in the design and look of the show?
Luckily, we are not starting with a blank canvas now we are two series in. We want to keep the show embedded in this world because it works, and the audience like it but because the characters have moved on they are in different places now with bigger environments and more opulent homes so the direction and the style moves along with it. It is an evolution rather than a revolution.

Peaky Blinders returns soon to

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Interviews

The Miniaturist Interviews: Romola Garai

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Romola Garai The Miniaturist

Romola Garai plays Marin Brandt in The Miniaturist, premiering soon on BBC-1, here she talks about what drew her to the drama and being in a costume drama where she pretty much only gets to wear one costume.

What attracted you to the role of Marin?
I’d read the book shortly after it came out and I thought it was a really surprising novel, really interesting and with very strong feminist themes in it, so I was very excited about it. Time passed and then an email popped into my inbox with the subject, The Miniaturist. I thought it was fantastic they were making it and I was really excited to read the script.

It’s a very genre-bending novel; it appears to be like a costume drama we have seen before, but very quickly we realise that it’s not that. It’s about a woman coming into her own in a society that’s very patriarchal, it’s about a love affair, it’s about discrimination, and it’s about people trying to survive in an incredibly controlled state. It’s a thriller and it’s also a story about political and emotional awakening.

Marin is a particularly interesting character, I think she has one of the best arcs. When I first read the book, she was the character that stayed with me, and when I read the scripts I immediately remembered everything about her. She’s told in beautiful detail in the novel, which John has retained in the script. Marin is just a great character to play, it was a real treat.

Tell us about Marin.
When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating. Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business and you learn that they were orphaned at a young age. She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.

One of the reasons I found her such a fascinating character is that she’s full of secrets and she’s layered; very conflicted and has great faith, but also passions. The house they live in is essentially a tinder box of secrets that Marin has been sitting on to try and stop the secrets exploding out. However although it seems she is trying to keep a lid on it I think she believes that they could subtly break all the rules and be free within the house at least, if only her brother stopped acting so recklessly.

Hopefully audiences will question what is driving her hostility towards Nella. Marin needs Nella a lot to maintain the appearance of being a normal household but it’s also very important that Nella is afraid of her so that she doesn’t try digging and discovering the secrets that they are all trying to keep – because if anyone finds out then their futures are ruined.

What was it like doing the scenes between Marin and Nella?
I loved working with Anya, she’s an incredibly accomplished actress. She’s got a difficult job in this, because Nella has to be very innocent at the beginning of the story, which is always difficult for an actor to play, and also more innocent that a woman of that age would be now. She’s constantly making discoveries, she doesn’t have the information that the rest of us do so she’s always learning new things, and she’s done that with real beauty and subtlety. I really enjoyed doing all our scenes together.

Anya Taylor Joy The Miniaturist

Anya Taylor Joy plays Nella.

Tell us about Marin’s costume.
Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!

What makes The Miniaturist stand out from other period dramas?
I’ve done lots of historical pieces but there’s something very unusual about this. When you do contemporary novels set in the past the writers are able to do a lot more, and tackle complex themes which writers writing at the time weren’t able to do. More than that, it’s interesting in that it explores a number of different genres. It has elements of a thriller and then it becomes a family drama and then it becomes a polemic about what happens in societies that are so controlling.

I hope people will sit down to watch the show because it’s a pretty costume drama and will be surprised that it is actually rebellious and constantly bringing up important issues – and that they’ll be so engaged they won’t be able to look away.

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Interviews

Trust Me Interviews: Sharon Small

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Trust Me Sharon Small

Interview with Sharon Small, who plays Dr. Brigitte McAdams in new three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs this August on BBC One.

What attracted you to this project?
I liked the character and the premise of the piece – I don’t think we’ve seen this before. And everyone is like an armchair detective, everyone is an armchair actor or doctor, so I thought that people would get off on that and think, gosh what would I do in that circumstance? The audience are the people who are privy to the truth and not us. With my character, Brigitte, I like her neediness, her sassiness – she’s fun and quick-fire talking – and quite honestly I rather fancied myself as a doctor [laughs].

How would you describe your character?
Brigitte is a good person; she’s sassy and is a really good doctor. She has got some issues, but she is trying her best to run this ward and with great intentions, which I think a lot of NHS doctors are.

How did you prepare for the role?
I grew my hair so that I could tie it up – normally I have short hair. We had a fantastic medical training day with Dan and got to do airways and cannulas and stitching and things like that, I loved that. The most important thing for me was to go around the actual A&E department (or ED department as I now know it’s called) in Edinburgh. We met this fantastic doctor – just watching him and really getting to observe what goes on in a ward, the dynamic, what people do and noticing that people are always looking at folders, everyone’s always collaborating and talking to each other. Everyone is always moving around, a lot more than you think and not that quickly. It’s less dramatic than you think.

Is your character challenging to play?
She was. Similarly in something that Jodie mentioned, I had quite a lot of medical jargon to say quite quickly, but I had less of the procedural stuff to do in terms of operational things. As the character is more and more revealed I had to make sure that I took care of how that happened, and that it was subtly done.

What makes a hospital a good arena for a drama?
It’s an ever-changing landscape, a hospital. Every new sort of event that you’re presented with means that you’re having to make life-saving decisions. People’s lives really are at stake, and honestly, my little taste of pretending that I was an ED doctor made me feel quite powerful. If I could fix people so that they survived, that would be an amazing ability.

What are the biggest challenges that you have faced so far during filming?
Saying the medical words Metronidazole – Met-ron-ida-zole, Metron-i-dazole – and trying to make scrubs look even remotely interesting, I don’t rock scrubs like Jodie does, I’m way too curvy for that!

What do you hope audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in that dilemma of wanting Cath/Ally to succeed, because she’s a good person and she ironically is brilliant at the job. I’m hoping that they’ll see the dilemma that she has, and as you want her to keep succeeding, it means she’s going to keep compromising people as she goes, as well as herself.

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Interviews

Trust Me Interviews: Jodie Whittaker

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Trust Me

Jodie Whittaker plays Cath in three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs on BBC One this August.

What appealed to you about this project?
I was sent the script for the first episode and it fascinated me because it went in a completely different direction to how I thought it was going to. Particularly at the beginning when she’s suspended for whistleblowing and loses her job. It could have gone so many ways, and the fact that she takes on this new identity isn’t the way that I thought it would go. I love the fact that her choices are quite morally dubious – they certainly aren’t black and white. She makes decisions that are quite challenging to justify, even though we know her reasons. I’ve never acted in anything medical before, so it felt completely new.

How does Cath’s lie come about?
Cath starts off by having a conversation with her best friend, Ally, who is a middle grade doctor in A&E and is giving it all up to emigrate to New Zealand. Ally is packing up the life that Cath would have loved to have had, leaving it all behind to go and do something completely different. Suddenly there is an opportunity for her to take on the identity of her friend and in that panic, not necessarily the clearest thinking moment in her life, she does it. Once you set off on a path of lies it’s very difficult to undo it without bringing everything crashing down.

Did you receive any training on medical procedures?
Yes! The writer, Dan, who is also medical consultant and a doctor outside of TV production, showed us a load of stuff that he used when he was training people. He brought in the CPR dummy and showed us how to do a cannula and he, very bravely, let me put a cannula in his vein. I did it right, thank God! Also, YouTube is amazing. The genius of the internet is that you can basically sit at home and Google medical procedures, and TV shows such as 24 hours in A&E, which I watched hours of.

How else did you prepare for the role?
With regards to the technical stuff, we had an on-set consultant so that there was always someone to help when we had to do the procedures. The best thing for me was that my character was also out of her depth and didn’t always know what she was doing, so it kind of covered my own personal fumbles. I’m not someone who likes to over prepare for dialogue scenes, because I think that makes me not listen to what the other person is saying as I’ve already decided how I’m going to do it. It immediately makes it interesting and new and you can’t plan for that, which is great. You can’t ‘wing’ the medical stuff so I had to do my research for that. One of my friends is a Sister in A&E and I sent her a lot of messages asking ‘how do you pronounce this?’ and ‘what does that mean?’, so basically she was my personal medical coach even though she works full time!

Is it challenging playing someone who leads a double life?
Yes, but no more challenging that playing someone who has had something happen to them that I haven’t personally experienced. What’s hard is trying to gauge how good a liar she is, or how in a panic she is. You’ve got to be careful, because you can’t make the other actors seem stupid. These are intelligent, fully formed characters that you’re working with, so it was a fine line of being able to deceive and it not being something that comes easily to her. However, it can’t be that it makes everyone around her feel a bit like an idiot for not working it out. That was tricky, but the director is there to help guide you through it.

Did the uniform help to get you into character?
Yes. It feels odd when you put it on. I did five weeks of studio filming, back to back – all the medical stuff was contained so everything started to become a bit like second nature. The first few times I had to put on an apron, the ‘take’ ended up being about 15 minutes long. Then I worked out that you shouldn’t put the gloves on before the apron! There was lots of daft stuff like that, but you then get into a rhythm. It’s good because it makes you immediately feel like you look the part and then all I had to do was make sure that I knew the lines!

What were some of the challenges that you faced during filming?
I’m not very good with learning dialogue when there are lots of medical terms! I enjoy the adrenaline of being on set because I’m quite good at choreography, I respond well to being taught something physically. That’s why I was terrible at school, because they talk you through things rather than physically show you. I enjoyed doing the different types of surgery as it was fascinating, it’s nerve-wracking but you realise that you can do it. Also, the team who created the props put in so much hard work to make sure we didn’t mess up our bits. I struggled with having massive speeches that involved these medical words. I don’t have a brain for that!

Did you enjoy working in Scotland?
I absolutely loved Glasgow! The crew were phenomenal and the city is wonderful. I could move my family up there and we had a great time as there were loads of brilliant restaurants and everyone was lovely. It was brilliant and I would snap up another job there very quickly, although it does get very dark and cold over winter!

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