Warning: contains spoilers for Peaky Blinders season 6 episode 3 ‘Gold’.
Ten years ago in the world of Peaky Blinders, a Russian archduke gave Tommy Shelby a sapphire. It was one of a hoard of jewels smuggled out of revolutionary Russia, hidden in the clothing and “intimate places” of the archduke’s wife and niece. The sapphire was payment for the murder of a spy, and down-payment for a shipment of tanks the Peaky Blinders were stealing to export to Georgians fighting the Bolsheviks. (Unbeknownst to the Russians, Tommy had the tanks sabotaged before delivery, rendering them useless as killing machines.)
Tommy took the jewel home and presented it mounted as a necklace to his new wife Grace, suggesting that she wear it to the Shelby Foundation fundraising dinner. When she demurred that it was a bit much for a charity event, he told her “Grace, this is Birmingham. Good taste is for people who can’t afford sapphires.”
“Nothing on Earth would make me wear it”
At the Foundation gala, Grace met the archduke’s niece Tatiana, who recognised the sapphire. Riled by Tommy ignoring her seduction attempt, Tatiana laughed and told him, “Does your wife know that the sapphire she’s wearing has been cursed by a gypsy? Nothing on earth would make me wear it.” A believer in gypsy curses, Tommy took the threat seriously and went straight over to Grace to tell her to take off the necklace. Before she could, a voice shouted “For Angel!” and shot Grace dead with a bullet aimed at Tommy. The gunman was from the Changretta family, and the shooting was in revenge for the blinding of Angel Changretta, who was seeing Lizzie Stark (later Lizzie Shelby).
After Grace’s death, Tommy went with Johnny Dogs and baby Charles in a wagon to the Black Mountains. There, he sought the advice of gypsy matriarch Madame Boswell. He told her he was giving the sapphire away and asked whether or not she would take it. His wife was wearing it on the night she was shot, he told the wise woman, and he blamed himself. “You want me to tell you this jewel is cursed and then her death won’t be all your fault?” she asked. “If I believed in priests,” Tommy said, “I would confess and ask for forgiveness, but all I have is you, Madame Boswell”. She said that the sapphire was indeed cursed, she could feel the curse burning through her hand. Tommy left the stone with her, and she shouted after him that from now on, he would be blessed with good fortune.
“Vengeance will come”
It’s a great scene that, at the time, was marked by ambiguity. Was Madame Boswell lying to land herself a valuable jewel, or did she really feel the stone’s curse? Did Tommy truly believe in the curse, or did he just need an explanation for Grace’s murder that absolved him of guilt? In season six, that ambiguity was replaced with certainty. The sapphire was indeed cursed, Esme Shelby-Lee tells Tommy. Madame Boswell (renamed Barwell here, perhaps to avoid insult to the real-life Boswell gypsy tribe) gave it to her daughter Evadne, who put it around the neck of her seven-year-old daughter Connie, who immediately started coughing and was dead before morning.
The sapphire was thrown into the river and Evadne duly cursed Tommy Shelby, that if he should ever have a daughter, she would also die at that age. Her child’s grave was marked by a cross bearing the inscription: “Connie Barwell, seven years old, died of a cursed stone not forgotten,” and then in red, what looks like the words “Vengeance will come”.
In season six, episode three ‘Gold’, vengeance did come. Tommy’s seven-year-old daughter Ruby died of tuberculosis, after hearing voices, seeing visions and speaking the Romani words for the devil. Ruby died from a curse laid in retaliation for Tommy having passed on an already-cursed sapphire to the Barwell family. Evadne Barwell (still listed under the family’s original name of ‘Boswell’ on IMDb), is credited as appearing in the next two episodes of season six, played by actor Gwynne McElveen.
If viewers chose to, they could dismiss all this talk of curses and jewels, and simply believe that Grace was shot by a foe, and that Ruby and Connie both died of TB and the sapphire had nothing to do with any of it. Tommy felt guilt over Grace’s death and needed something to blame that wasn’t himself, so he seized on the idea of the cursed stone as an explanation. Tommy’s mind almost says as much when he had a vision of Grace holding the sapphire in season five and she gave voice to his greatest fear: “It wasn’t the blue stone, Tommy, it was you.”
None of that dull rationalism though, would be very Peaky Blinders. This is a drama that believes in gypsy superstition, so why shouldn’t we believe it too? The stone was cursed, and that curse killed Grace, Connie and indirectly, Ruby.
For the real meaning of that though, we need to go back to 2017, when Den of Geek spoke to the show’s creator Steven Knight about the blue sapphire. He told us that the stone was symbolic of the corruption of money and rank. Tommy’s “first brush with the aristocracy,” said Knight, “they give him a symbol of wealth and power – the blue sapphire – which is cursed! That’s his first encounter with it and he learns it’s actually a curse.” Perhaps that’s the significance of the colour too – blue sapphire equals blue blood, and the poisoned chalice of riches and influence, i.e. everything Tommy’s been fighting to amass since season one.
Peaky Blinders season six continues on Sunday the 20th of March at 9pm on BBC One.