'Peaky Blinders': It is the badass women who are the real ringleaders in the Shelby family
Be it in the Shelby business, the gambling race course, or the bars, the women were everywhere in the 1920s Birmingham.
BBC One's 'Peaky Blinders' has been a show that, in spite of being set against the early decades of the 1900s- a time when to be conservative was the social norm- has been breaking all rules. From talking about the working class instead of the flamboyance of the aristocrats and the royals to characters who are as contemporary in nature as the age in which the show is being watched, the Cillian Murphy starring show has every reason to be the best in the lot. However, with one exception. The Steven Knight-created show's treatment of men and women on an equal platform is what sets it apart.
Not for once has creator Knight treated his female characters as "women" but these characters are creatures who are just as complex and shaded in grey as their male counterparts. The 1900s were a time when women had strict roles to follow such as married women would stay at home while men earned the weekly wages and single women took up low-profile jobs such as housekeeping. Knight's women were unlike their fellow mates of that early period of the century. These women were the ones who held the empire together when the men were out in the trenches fighting a war. The traditional roles were amended and women took up the jobs of men due to the lack of male power in the labor force.
The women of 'Peaky Blinders' belong to this very clan of individuals who had for the first time tasted the flare of freedom. Aunt Polly, played by a ravishing Helen McCrory is the one who had held the Shelby castle when the boys were out at war. Even when they returned, her hold upon the family and the business remained firm in spite of Thomas' position as the gang leader. Thomas looked up at Polly not just as a mother but as a business advisor, a partner in crime, and the only family member who he could trust without doubting his instincts. Polly, on the other hand, has devoted her life to keep the family together- even when it meant for her to do away with her dignity, because to Polly dignity is where the family is.
Women had not yet received their rights as individual citizens in that era but the women of 'Peaky Blinders' were already taking control of their own lives. Ada Shelby, the youngest Shelby sibling and the only daughter in the family, played by Sophie Rundle, did not mind fighting against an army of brothers who would not allow her to flee with the Communist she was in love with. However, in spite of the failed love affair, Ada returns to the family to claim her rightful place. She goes on to become Thomas' secret weapon, always on the lookout for her brother's misgivings. What set her aside as a Shelby sibling was her sheer nonconformity about the Shelby family rules.
Ada was the revolutionist in the gang of murderers, she looked forward to a better future that she knew her family would never provide her with. Yet, she never steps back from playing her part as Thomas' sister even when Thomas disapproves of her Communist ideologies. Just like Ada, May Carlton, who was played by an unyielding Charlotte Riley, was a woman of her own choices. Although she was smitten by Thomas' charm, she refused to compromise with her own dignity when it was put to test. She would not take Thomas with all his burden but she did offer a helping hand to lighten it, by training his horse.
A woman of poise and nobility, May does not shy away from stepping onto the other side of the line because she knows that people are the same everywhere- it didn't matter if they were rich or poor. She was bold and honest in her declaration of love and walked away with magnificence when Thomas claimed that he chose Grace over her. As for Grace, she was probably the only woman who had brought Thomas down on his knees. Played by the surreal Annabelle Wallis, Grace had caught Thomas' attention with her wild blond, her mild voice, and her firmness. She was the first woman, other than Polly, who would look him in the eye and not hesitate to contradict his ideas.
Grace's character seemed to have embodied Lilian Wyles, who was the first woman to become a Scotland Yard detective, as Grace herself was an underground agent working under Inspector Campbell. This complex character's slow but harrowing switch to the other side of the line established her as a character who was in a constant conflict with her morale. She was discovering parts of herself that she had long tried to suppress but now that it was revealing itself she tried hard to embrace it, instead of burying it once again. Her hold on Thomas' conscious was stronger than anyone else's and her death had caused the most damage to the already traumatized war-hero.
The women of 'Peaky Blinders' are as rebellious in nature as the era they lived in, and it is their presence that makes the show a complete package. They not only spearhead the workings of the Shelby company but also lead Thomas out of the blind allies that he often finds himself struggling in. Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the former war-hero seeks refuge in these women who are the only sane ones in Birmingham's murderous streets. They not only hold the upper hand when it comes to making decisions but also play a significant role in unwrapping the cloud of mystery surrounding Thomas.