Steven Knight: English period drama is written in an overly formal way

New BBC drama Peaky Blinders drops the formal speech and let’s people speak normally, says the Oscar-nominated screenwriter

Oscar nominated screenwriter Steven Knight says he is “horrified” by the way British period drama is written in an overly formal way.


“What amuses me, and horrifies me, in English period drama is that people always write in a certain way: will not, can not, do not” Knight tells Radio Times magazine (on sale Tuesday). “Everybody speaks in this very formal, written-down way and it affects how characters are.”

Best known for Stephen Frears’s 2002 film Dirty Pretty Things, in which Knight was nominated for an original screenplay Oscar, the writer’s new drama focuses on the criminal underworld in early C20th Birmingham.

He adds: “Part of the drama’s magnetism lies in its dialogue: precisely observed, but very informal, which underlines how little people have changed.

“This is period drama where people speak normally. You go into the past, but you let people speak. And if you break that door down, you realise that people are just like us,” Knight adds.

Knight also revealed that he turned to stories from his own family’s history for inspiration.

“It was reluctantly delivered, but my family did give me little snapshots, of gypsies and horses and gang fights and guns and immaculate suits.

“One of the first stories that inspired me was of my dad when he was a little kid, sent to deliver a message. There was a table, covered in money and guns, surrounded by blokes, beautifully dressed, drinking beer from jam jars. You didn’t buy glasses. You only spent money on clothes.”


Peaky Blinders starts Thursday September 12, 9:00pm, BBC2