With fascist politician Oswald Mosley set to play a major role in series five, Peaky Blinders creator and writer Steven Knight says that series five has “an unbelievable resonance to what’s going on now” in 2019.
Hunger Games actor Sam Claflin stars as Oswald Mosley MP, a notorious real-life figure who led the British Union of Fascists from the early 1930s. At the time, fascism was gaining ground in Britain and across Europe.
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Series five of Peaky Blinders kicks off in 1929 with the Wall Street Crash and the early days of a worldwide economic depression. Tommy Shelby MP (Cillian Murphy) is now deeply involved in the communist movement (for his own secretive reasons) which leads to an encounter with Mosley.
Addressing the parallels between series five and current events, Knight told Peaky Blinders fans at a preview screening in London: “Well it’s been fortunate for us, and unfortunate for the world. The things that were happening – and it’s happened previously in other series as well – but the things that were happening in the time that we’re setting the series have an unbelievable resonance to what’s going on now.”
He added: “Because the thirties it was the rise of nationalism, populism, fascism, racism – a huge sweep across the world. And you look at the world now – and what I hope people might take from this is: what was the consequence of when it happened last time? Nine years later there was a world war. And so maybe, not such a great idea.”
Looking back at the 1930s, he explained: “That’s what happened before, and there was this real movement of, ‘We must protect ourselves, foreigners are the enemy, it’s everybody else’s fault.’ And it was hugely popular. Mosley was getting a hundred thousand people at his rallies and there was a hundred thousand people trying to get in. [They] loved it. But what happened?”
Peaky Blinders series one aired in 2013, starting just after the Shelby boys had returned from the Great War. Each series has taken us further into the inter-war period, but in the real world the last six years have seen the election of US President Donald Trump and the growth of far-right, nationalist movements in America and Europe.
“It’s not because I planned, or knew the way things were going, it was just fortuitous in terms of, it so happens that as we’ve done these leaps of years between 1919 – we’re hitting this time [the 30s], and something was happening that is so resonant,” Knight said.
“And I think people will find it staggering, or they’ll think I’ve made it up – that the language, the phrases, the sentences that were used at the time, are not dissimilar. They’re the same language completely. Which is quite chilling.”
On the relationship between Mosley (aka Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley of Ancoats, sixth baronet) and Tommy (a working class Birmingham gang leader and businessman), Sam Claflin said: “Tommy’s sort of out of his comfort zone, he’s playing a big boy’s game now. He’s playing chess, if you will, and Oswald Mosley is someone who grew up playing chess, so it’s the big fish in a small pond, kind of going into the ocean all of a sudden.
“And Oswald Mosley is still very young and inexperienced in many respects, but at the same time a lot more experienced than Tommy. So I think the two of them enjoy the challenge of trying to outwit one another and using each other to better themselves, and to kind of get ahead.
“Obviously when those two characters come together, it will hopefully excite people as much as it did me.”
The actor said he came to the role without preconceptions, explaining: “For me, Mosley was a fictional character. I didn’t know anything about him before stepping into his shoes, so I kind of was fortunate that I was approaching it from a non-judgemental angle. I didn’t have any feelings or thoughts towards him.
“I do now! Now, I do. It was very eye-opening for me.”
Peaky Blinders series 5 is “coming soon” to BBC1