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HomeTv & ShowHelen McCrory's death was start of 'the end' of Peaky Blinders, says...

Helen McCrory's death was start of 'the end' of Peaky Blinders, says creator

Helen, who played the indomitable matriarch Aunt Polly in the popular period drama, died of breast cancer in April last year, aged 52. With the final series starting on BBC One tonight, her co-stars have revealed they thought her character was “more terrifying than Tommy Shelby”, who is portrayed by Cillian Murphy.

Asked why this sixth series is the final one, Knight said: “The reason is boringly practical, which is that we lost a year due to the pandemic.

“The way these things are scheduled, it’s like turning an oil tanker around. 

“We just felt, also with the loss of Helen, it all seemed to be pointing towards doing what I’m calling ‘the end of the beginning’. Let’s end the beginning, then let’s do the film. And then let’s see where we go in terms of spin-offs.”

Although filming began in January last year, Helen doesn’t feature, due to her illness at the time.

She had been in all previous series as one of the show’s more memorable characters, often bringing together warring parties in the family and calming lead characters, such as Tommy Shelby.

In real life, Helen was married to fellow actor Damian Lewis and left behind two children. 

The new series picks up in 1934, said Cillian. “We’ve jumped ahead now – quite a bit of time has elapsed. Historically, we know where that was headed in terms of the rise of fascism and everything.

“Again, Tommy’s rise is at the centre of it all.

“He’s a legal bookmaker, then all of a sudden he becomes an MP and now he’s mixing with Churchill. And it goes beyond that again in the next series.”

The action is explosive from the start, with Cillian adding: “An awful lot will be revealed in the first 10 minutes of episode one of series six.

“A lot of what happens in that first 10 minutes becomes the engine for the rest of the story and for the rest of the series. 

“Steve Knight is amazing at writing these cliffhangers where you think, ‘how can the character possibly continue?’”

With the final series starting tonight its stars and producers have paid tribute to their lost colleague, Helen. “She took that character, and she just ran with it,” said Sophie Rundle, who portrays Ada Shelby. 

“Polly’s way more terrifying than Tommy Shelby! This was one of my first ever jobs after drama school – same for several of us – so we all kind of gravitated around her.

“Once you think about Polly then you’ve got the natural fallout of like, what is Tommy Shelby’s sister like; what is Tommy Shelby’s wife like; who does he look up to; who does he want to be like?

“You know, you’ve got these smart, badass women who grew up around guns and knives.

“And it’s only natural that they would be as terrifying as the men.” 

Natasha O’Keeffe’s Lizzie Shelby was also inspired by Helen’s presence.

She said: “When I was working alongside her as Lizzie, there was this learning that was going on.

“I was looking and learning – and also Lizzie was looking and learning from this incredible force and this matriarch – how to hold herself; how to dress herself; how to function in this seemingly man’s world.”

Executive producer Jamie Glazebrook added: “Because Helen projected so much joy in that character, you can see why viewers just embraced her so much.”

The Peaky Blinders airs tonight at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

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