'Peaky Blinders' Finn Cole: ‘The Houses of Parliament is more evil than the streets of Birmingham’
Peaky Blinders season 5 will find the Shelby clan at a crossroads. Years of bitter infighting has left the family fractured, and the devastating Wall Street Crash of 1929 threatens to plunge their hard-fought criminal empire into crisis. Big decisions have to be made, and quick.
As the Shelby family’s man in New York, Michael will perhaps bear the brunt of Tommy’s ire. The pair aren't on the best of terms as it is, after all. We sat down with Finn Cole, the actor who plays the exiled Chief Accountant, to find out what the upcoming season holds in store for his character:
So tell me about how Michael begins season five?
So I start off in New York. There’s the financial crash in the 1920s, and Michael may or may not have something to do with that. He's invited back from America and as a family we have to reassess what the next move is, because we've lost a lot of money. I think Tommy blames Michael for it, but that's not necessarily the full story.
There's a lot of animosity between you two. Will that be a big part of the season?
Tommy is very protective over his family, and therefore over his company. So I think that Michael is a threat based on the fact that he's a younger version of Tommy. He's got new ideas and he's more efficient. He's very entrepreneurial. But at the same time, Tommy kind of needs him a little bit and appreciates him, and there are definitely aspects of Michael that Tommy respects.
Do you think there’s a possibility that your character could overtake Tommy as the head of the family? Michael has grown colder over the years.
I think that's been included into the scripts for a long time. I don't necessarily think that in season two, when I joined, that was the case, but we've kind of grown to recognise that Michael is more than capable of doing the job that his cousins do. And he's also got the legitimate side down too, so that's very threatening for any kind of leader of an organisation. And as you say, through his experiences and through his upbringing, he's colder, harsher and more able to make those ruthless decisions. That's what it is to be a leader of a gang like that. But it could also be a downfall at times, too. That'll make it very interesting.
Michael always seems on the brink of leaving for one reason or another. Do you worry when you get a new script that it could be your last?
Of course. I think with a show like this, it's important to recognise that Steve Knight is our writer and commander and to trust any decision that he has to make. If he thinks that the character should either die or go, I'm fully on board with it, because I know that that's what’s best for the character. He will have exhausted all of that character's opportunities. It can happen anytime, but it's written in there for a very good reason, and I wouldn't change it for the world. So I'm always aware of the fact that that could be a last time, and then if Peaky Blinders comes back and says they want to see me again, then that's the best news I can get.
Michael dresses slightly differently to the other characters in the show. What is that supposed to communicate?
That communicates the fact that Michael is the next generation. He's smarter, he's got a different approach. He's going to take it to the next level, and he's with the times. You notice in this season that the fashion changes: he's wearing a different collar and the American influence has really come in. He's up to date and he recognises how important that is. So we definitely made some bold choices with those suits. Our costume designer, Allison, was absolutely fantastic when it came to pinpointing exactly what was going to be different about him versus the other characters in terms of the colours and the materials and those things.
We’ve always wanted these characters to look as cool as possible, while also fitting the era and lifestyle. There’s a style that Steve writes very specifically into a script. It's the James Bond thing: a classic, gentlemanly look that as a nation we can be proud of. And I'm even more excited that people have taken that on and are doing their own things and dressing in that old fashioned way.
Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, is in the new series. Peaky Blinders is a pretty aestheticised show, was there ever any worry that it would glamorise him somehow?
That's difficult to for me to say, I think that's a question that Sam will be able to answer a little more eloquently. I believe that, in Steve's writing, we wanted to make that character look and be evil. That's the representation that we're going for with that character. And that's [the representation] that I believe in and believe to be historically accurate to some extent. So that's where that story went.
The most important thing for us was to say that this gangster world is terrible and bleak but there are rules, [whereas] politics is terrible and bleak and there aren't any rules. That the Houses of Parliament is a darker, more evil place than the streets of Birmingham. Because these families live by a set of rules. They love each other, they care for each other and they want to make things right. They go about it in terrible, terrible ways, but you'll find the government also does that too. And the official side of things is just as messed up as the illegitimate side of that world. Oswald Mosley was quite an evil man, he wasn't a very nice man, and I think we'll find that there are going to be plenty more ‘not very nice men’ in government as years go on. But that's an important representation to have.
Steven Knight has spoken about Tommy Shelby finding redemption by the show’s end. Do you think he deserves it, given everything he has done?
I do. I think he's a perfect anti-hero. But I think that his decision-making is warranted, and I like Tommy a lot as a character and as a person. I would be terrified of him. I would never approach him and I would never want to associate myself with him. But his intentions are in the right place, I think. And we will see that as the season goes on. Season five has a lot more of that good Tommy; that Tommy that we want to see. You want to vindicate him.
Peaky Blinders seasons 5 returns to BBC One on Sunday, August 25 at 9pm