Set in the aftermath of World War II, Steven Knight's 'Peaky Blinders' weaves the tale of a criminal gang in Birmingham owned by the Shelby Family. While Cillian Murphy plays Thomas Shelby, head of the gang, Helena McCrory's Polly Gray is the matriarch of the family and the treasurer of the Birmingham criminal gang.
In the absence of Shelby boys during the Great War, she took care of the family and often advised Thomas as the "unofficial" head. "Rule one. You don't punch above your weight," she tells him in one scene. Dangerous, strong-headed and not one to mince her words, Aunt Polly knows how to handle the men around her as can be seen in her famous dialogue: "Men and their cocks never cease to amaze me," or when she says, "We don't need more f***ing men! It's men that have done the damage! It... It is men fighting like cockerels."
Since her childhood, she would take her family out in the woods as the police were after her father. She got pregnant when she was just sixteen and had to abort the child. Later, she married a Gypsy Gray and had two kids, Michael and Anna, who were taken away from her. But none of the horrors of her past deter her or make her weak. In season one, when she finds out Ada is pregnant with the child of Freddie Thorne, she tells her: "You know the words. You're a whore. Baby's a bastard. But there's no word for the man who doesn't come back." Still, she extends all the help to her to keep the baby and marry Thorne.
Sassy and brassy, Aunt Pol, as she is fondly called by her nephews, is the saving grace for men when they let their testosterones talk instead of their minds. In Aunt Polly's shoes, McCrory is all about sense and sensibility when she puts her thinking cap on. Nothing can stop her when she sets her mind on something.
Even as she is all about being the boss, there is a tender motherly figure hidden inside her. When she finds out her daughter is no more but her son is alive, there is no outcry or emotional brouhaha but just a glint of hope in her eye. She never lets her tears flow. Instead, she lets them fly with the cigarette smoke in the air. It's like her tears have turned into ashes. A palatial house means nothing to her as she asks the Shelby boys, "What am I supposed to do with all these rooms?" Once she finally meets her boy Michael, her joy knows no bounds. When he is arrested for no fault with the Shelby brothers, she sells her body to Major Chester Campbell just for him to be freed from the jail the very next morning.
Through seasons three and four, she does everything in her stride to protect her son and to keep her family above the crime scene. "So at an alternative time, when we have all recovered I would like to put before the family an alternative view of the future of the Shelby Company Limited. A more hopeful view. Which I, for one, would quite like to hear," she tells Thomas. Even when she is about to be hanged, she isn't scared. Blaming Thomas for her near-death experience, she leaves him but comes back when he and Michael insist. "When you're dead already you're free," she tells Tommy.
At the end of season four, Polly helps Thomas with his mental illness. She tells him to shake hands with the devil and walk past them. Polly is the biggest support for Thomas through all his deeds and the one person the Shelby family can turn to have their back. A flamboyant first look of McCrory's role in season five has been released and it is to be seen how she takes the part forward. Nevertheless, Polly is forever etched in minds as the boss lady every woman should aspire to be. "None of your knives can kill me," as Aunt Pol says.