Freddie Thorne (Iddo Goldberg), the undisputed communist in BBC One's 'Peaky Blinders', once told Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy), no matter how rich the Shelbys get, they would always be working class. Yet, time and again the Shelby family has proven that their lifestyle represents anything but the working class.
The Shelby brothers never repeat the same suit twice, their matriarch, Polly Grey (Helen McCrory), probably had as many hats as the Queen, and the youngest Shelby sister, Ada (Sophie Rundle), is "the only woman in Birmingham in four-inch heels!" Yet, everytime someone mentions the Shelby family, the center of the Steven Knight-created show, their past seems to be littered with poverty while the men worked in mines and fought in the First World War.
So, what actually happened? We know 'Peaky Blinders' isn't the show that would refer to a fairy godmother to make its characters rich overnight, nor is it so far removed from history that it would be unconcerned with the class struggle of the inter-war era.
As Knight mentioned, 'Peaky Blinders' is drawn from the true life of his great-grandfather, and his associates, who were members of the gang Peaky Blinders. The show spends a considerable amount of time in almost every episode to bring up the discussion of class. After accumulating the many broken conversations between Thorne and Thomas, in the first Season, it can be said for sure that both men belonged to the working class before the war.
However, as the war left Thomas shell-shocked, he sought refuge in his work, and furiously began to look for ways to make more money. He soon understood that war harms most those who are poor, and being a man of intellect, he easily fathoms the Great War wasn't the end.
His first priority was to make money and his second was to transform his family from rags to riches. He didn't care if his way of attaining that money was illegal or not, but a lot like the Tongs of Chinatown in America, Thomas' business began to revolve around gambling, bookmaking, and liquor production. He would often deal in weapons, and was rumored to have sold arms to the Irish Revolutionary Army (IRA) and perhaps the communists.
Thorne, on the other hand, was critical about the Shelbys' way of living. He did not approve of their gigantic mansion amid the poverty-stricken lanes in Small Heath. Moreover, Thorne was a communist who resisted the very idea of capitalism, and Thomas at the time was turning out to be the most capitalistic man in Birmingham.
In spite of being Thomas' best friend and a comrade at war, Thorne had time and again publicly revolted against the Shelbys and instigated their workers to turn against them. He also managed to turn Ada against her family, when the two fell in love and gave birth to a son, whom they named after Karl Marx. After Thorne's death from pneumonia, Ada continued her life as a communist by moving out of the Shelby mansion.
In spite of all the drama which went on in his family about class and the economic beliefs of the various classes, Thomas continued to maintain his stance as a working class man. He might have aimed to be among riches, but not once did he claim himself an aristocrat. In fact, when the artistocratic May Carleton (Charlotte Riley) fell in love with him, Thomas withdrew from the prospect because his intention was not to woo May, but to use her connection in order to expand his business.
When he sends out letters to the government, he does not introduce himself as a man of high class, but as a working class hero who is a war veteran. Perhaps the only time, he publicly spoke out about his identity as a working class man was in Season 4, when he stated, "I am not a traitor to my class. I am just an extreme example of what a working class man can achieve."
In the end, it should be noted that Thomas isn't a man of empty promises. He grew up in the rags, and for the most part of his childhood he was identified as a gypsy. Later on, he almost faced death when the trench he was fighting in broke down upon him. Shell-shocked, he could never fully recover from the wastes of war but with time he managed to establish himself as a man who could even negotiate with the government to let him take a place as a Member of Parliament.
Thomas Shelby is perhaps what John Lennon meant when he said, "a working class hero is something to be!" 'Peaky Blinders' returns to BBC One late Spring, but no official date has been confirmed yet.