'Peaky Blinders' Season 5: Steven Knight's treatment of radical 1920s union activist Jessie Edens is a letdown
Jessie Edens was an indomitable figure whose voice continued to remain prominent even when at 69 years she led a protest against the '70s Vietnam War but we don't get to see it.
'Peaky Blinders' has managed to win over fans with the subtle portrayal of the rising conflict between the Communist party and the Fascist party of the early decades of the 20th century. Creator Steven Knight had in fact even mentioned that he drew out the characters from his early childhood memories of his grandfather and his great-grandfather who were both parts of the notorious Birmingham street gang, Peaky Blinders.
In the show, Knight brings forth the infamous Shelby family who rules over the Peaky Blinders, who seem to be one of the most fearful "aristocrats" in Small Heath. With the clever and indomitable head of the family, Thomas Shelby (played by Cillian Murphy), the family's illegal automobile and gambling business flourishes with little or no impediments.
While Knight may be trying to get a good bit of history into his show, one of his attempts may have lacked complete research. His portrayal of the Communist leader, Jessie Eden has left fans with mixed feelings. Played by Charlie Murphy on the show, let's just say Knight seems to have committed a major blunder in the portrayal of this prominent historical figure. Born in 1902, Eden made headlines when in 1926 she led all her female employees at the Joseph Lucas Motor Components Factory in a general strike. This was around the time when the working-class was rising up against the ruling class which ended up in the famous 1926 General Strike.
Although the percentage of unionized women in the factory was far less than the 10,000 non-unionized female workers, it did not stop Eden from fighting for what was right. However, in the protests that she had either participated or had led them, Eden had faced her own share of conflict with the law. She had explained, that during the May Day march where almost 25,000 participated and was witnessed by another 100,000, "One policeman put his hands on my arm. They were telling me to go home, but the crowd howled, ‘Hey, leave her alone’ and then some men came and pushed the policemen away. They didn’t do anything after that. I think they could see that there would have been a riot. I was never frightened of the police or the troops because I had the people with me.”
The following years saw Eden quickly come to the forefront of the working-class protests, and in 1931 she once again gained prominence when she led about 10,000 women out of the Lucas factory on a week-long strike over new working practices which were driving female workers to the point of collapse. Eden's efforts took flight as the 1931 protest soon gained credits for the mass unionization of women workers but it did take a toll upon Eden who was later on sacked from her job and had to spend years searching for a new one. However, in the next two years that Eden spent in Moscow, she rallied with Soviet women construction workers, who were then working to build the city's metro line.
Eden was unstoppable, and during her two years stay in Russia she devoted herself to be a faithful pupil at the Comintern’s Lenin School for cadre development in Moscow which helped her develop herself into an excellent orator. Eden acted as the key figure in the 1939 Birmingham Rent Strike which brought almost 49,000 tenants out on strike, successfully winning them rent control in the council and private sector. She also contested in the 1945 General Election as a candidate from the Communist Party and was elected as a counselor that year. Unfortunately, Eden's brilliant story was never told in 'Peaky Blinders'.
We only got a glimpse of Eden's indomitable personality when she first appeared in Season 4. As no doors were unlocked in the women's washroom, she boldly walked into the men's washroom, almost pulling in gazes as she did so. She once again demonstrated her bravery when she boldly walked into Thomas' office demanding an equal paycheck and comfortable working environment for all women. However, after that, her character began to lose its footprint and suddenly Eden became a mere shadow lurking behind Thomas Shelby. She was reduced to a stepping stone for Thomas who literally promised her love in exchange for a position as a Member of Parliament.
Season 4 saw an extreme imbalance in the characterization of the only historical figure on the show. Eden's very identity as a Communist leader who fought for women took the backseat, and all her gains became secondary to Thomas' intentions. Hopefully, when the show returns with its fifth installment, we will get to see more of Eden and this time perhaps a little more focus on Eden's prominence as a communist instead of her vulnerability as a widowed lover. 'Peaky Blinders' returns to BBC One with Season 5, this Spring, and the first four seasons are already airing on Netflix.