Warning: contains spoilers (obviously) for Peaky Blinders series 3.
Peaky Blinders series three opened with a lavish wedding. After the hushed-up suicide of Grace’s husband, she returned from New York with her and Tommy’s baby son (conceived during series two’s extra-marital fling) to make an honest man of Thomas Shelby – literally so. On their wedding day, Grace made Tommy promise to put an end to the criminal business and keep his new family safe. “No guns in the house,” he vowed.
Cut to Arthur, that same episode, in that same house, shooting dead a Soviet spy in the wine cellar, then burning the body in the extensive grounds of Tommy’s stately home. (This was the same Arthur, incidentally, who was strictly on the wagon following his marriage to pious Quaker Linda—sarcastically dubbed by John “the Madonna of Moseley”—but who had a few whiskies at the wedding “to remind him why he doesn’t drink”.) The Shelby family may have aspired to change in series three, but, as is this series’ perennial question: is it ever really possible to change from who you once were?
The Changretta family
A war with Italian family the Changrettas had tragic consequences for Tommy in series three. It arose when Lizzie (Shelby Company secretary, John’s ex, former sex worker and current Tommy hook-up) was banned from seeing Angel Changretta by order of the Peaky Blinders. There had been bad blood between the families since the Changrettas demanded that Tommy kill Danny Whizz-Bang back in series one, after Danny accidentally killed one of their men during a psychotic PTSD-related episode.
The Blinders burned down Angel’s restaurant to stop him attending Tommy’s wedding with Lizzie. When the Italians sought an apology, John made threats, which escalated between parties until John blinded Angel. While Polly and Arthur had counselled John to compromise and apologise, Tommy approved of John’s brutal attack, and gave orders to take two Italian-owned pubs by force. “If we can, we do,” he said. In retaliation, a gunman was sent to the Shelby charity foundation fundraiser, and, aiming for Tommy, shot and killed Grace.
Following Grace’s murder, Tommy had Arthur and John slit Angel’s throat, then instructed them to kill Angel’s parents, who were trying to escape on a boat to New York. Arthur and John refused to kill the innocent Mrs Changretta, who was their former schoolteacher and “a good woman,” and sent her on to America but delivered her husband to Tommy, who tortured him until Arthur put the man out of his misery with a swift bullet to the head.
Series three was all about struggle for Arthur. He’d found peace in Linda and in God, but the light of the Lord didn’t marry with his brutal line of work. With fatherhood on the horizon, Linda urged him to turn away from the devil and do his “work in the light”. After murdering for the King in WWI and for Tommy ever since, could Arthur ever be anything but another man’s killing machine?
Arthur tried to contain his violent and hedonistic impulses, stopping himself from rising to Alfie Solomons’ bait and holding out at a Russian orgy for a little while before eventually giving in to temptation. He and John refused to murder the innocent Mrs Changretta, telling Tommy they weren’t “those kind of men”, but killed repeatedly in series three. He murdered in the Changretta war, and killed six men in the finale’s train explosion.
Arthur’s Quaker wife Linda was revealed to be a very clever, skilled manipulator. She cut a better financial deal with Tommy on Arthur’s behalf than he ever would have, and inspired the Shelby women to walk out on strike on Good Friday in support of Jessie Eden’s women’s action. Linda planned for her, Arthur and the baby to emigrate to California, where she would work as a missionary and Arthur would run a general store and swim in the ocean, to rid him of “all the nonsense in his head from France”. Their California dream, though, wasn’t to be.
Grace’s death was an indirect consequence of John’s refusal to let the Changretta rivalry go. He went against Arthur and Polly’s advice when he escalated matters and cut Angel, and though Tommy supported his brother’s brutal instinct, it all ended in tragedy.
There was also conflict between John and Michael in series three. John perceived a slight when Tommy chose to see Polly and her son Michael, face of legitimate business for the Shelby Company, before him and Arthur instead of holding the traditional whole-family meeting. Arthur and John’s resentment of “young boss” Michael bubbled under, leading to a tense scene in which they drunkenly taught him to shoot a gun.
John and Esme, who was snorting coke five months into her pregnancy, had another baby in the course of series three.
The Shelby boys also learned in series three that their father had been shot and killed in Boston.
Ada came back into the family fold with son Karl, and compromised her Communist principles by accepting a cushy job working for the Shelby Company in Boston, America.
In series three, Wilderness House in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace became home to a family of Russian aristocrats ousted by the Soviet Revolution, or, as Ada Shelby calls them “the bastards who ran away”. Natives of Tbilisi, Georgia, the Romanov and Petrovna family made a deal with the Economic League to purchase tanks and weaponry to supply their compatriots fighting the Bolsheviks in Georgia. Blackmailing Tommy Shelby with knowledge of his family’s criminal activity, the Economic League planned to source these weapons from the Peaky Blinders, who would steal them from a factory and move them to a shipyard for transportation out of the country.
The Romanov-Petrovna family were to pay in part for the weapons using jewels smuggled from Russia, kept in a safe room treasury underneath the River Thames. They gave Tommy Shelby a sapphire from this collection, later revealed to have been cursed.
In cahoots with Grand Duchess Tatiana Petrovna, with whom he had a sexual relationship, Tommy and his army ‘claykickers’ dug a tunnel under the river, robbed the family treasury and gave Tatiana the jewels in exchange for cash. Tatiana ran off to Europe with her aunt and uncle’s loot, telling Tommy if he was ever in Vienna, he should look her up.
The Economic League
Also known as Section D or the Oddfellows, the Economic League were a well-connected far-right organisation who worked to suppress the threat of communist revolt.
The Economic League ostensibly arranged an arms deal between the Peaky Blinders and the Russian aristocrats, but were in fact double-crossing both parties. They leaked news of the arms deal to the Soviets, provoking them to destroy the shipment of weapons in an explosion, thereby committing the act of violence on British soil that would justify the government cutting off diplomatic relations with the Soviets, the chief goal.
Tommy Shelby discovered their scheme, and realised that his family were to have been sacrificed at the conclusion of the deal. He then made his own plan with the Soviets for his men to remove key parts of the weaponry, rendering it useless on arrival and thereby stopping the need to blow up the shipment.
In turn, the Economic League discovered Tommy’s plan, and kidnapped his infant son, threatening to kill him if the Peaky Blinders didn’t blow up the shipment themselves and scatter documents in the wreckage to make it look like the Soviets did it. Seeing no other choice, Tommy had Arthur and John blow up the train, killing six men.
The Economic League also demanded the loot from the robbery Tommy was planning of the Russian treasury. They didn’t get the jewels though, because the Peaky Blinders discovered the whereabouts of Tommy’s son, rescued him and killed his kidnapper, Father John Hughes.
Father John Hughes
Played by Paddy Considine, the villainous Father John Hughes was a paedophilic priest and key player in the Economic League. When the Grace Shelby Institute for the Non-Insured Children of the Poor opened, he demanded Jimmy Savile-style keys to the building and an office on the grounds, telling Tommy that he and an MP would be making visits to the children whenever they pleased.
Michael Gray (Polly’s son who, along with his sister, had been taken into care as children) was a former sexual abuse victim of Father John Hughes while in the care of the parish. He asked Tommy for permission to kill Hughes, and it was granted. After a brutal fight in the finale, Michael eventually slit Hughes’ throat and emerged a changed man. Before that, Michael shot and killed another man—one of Alfie Solomons’ goons—to protect Tommy.
Tom Hardy’s character Alfie had been brought in by Tommy to value the jewels in the Russian treasury. Spotting a Fabergé egg and other delights there, Alfie betrayed Tommy to the Economic League in exchange for a cut of the loot the Economic League planned to take from Tommy after he and his men had robbed the Russians. As they didn’t get the jewels in the end, presumably neither did Alfie. When Tommy accused Alfie of stepping over a line by putting his son in danger, Alfie gave an impassioned speech about the lives they both lead and there not being ‘a line’.
Polly promised Tommy that if her son Michael was the one to kill Father Hughes (a holy man, thus double the sin), she would pull the Shelby Company down around his ears. Whether she now makes good on that promise remains to be seen.
Polly’s series three storyline involved her flirtation with the bohemian set through artist Reuben Oliver (Alexander Siddig), hired to capture Polly’s likeness. Polly met Reuben at Tommy and Grace’s wedding, a collision of two worlds—one of gypsies and gangsters, the other of cavalrymen and officers. Over a series of sittings in which Polly wore a couture Parisian gown her mother had stolen in 1901, she fell for Reuben, who described her as “a woman of substance and class”. The resulting portrait of an imperious Polly (titled by her, “Fuck Them All”), was destroyed in the series finale when, drunken and insecure, Polly slashed it to pieces saying it was wrong and showed her as “too sure of herself.”
Tommy married, then lost Grace, leaving his son Charles motherless. He was wracked by guilt over Grace’s death. The bullet was meant for him, and she was wearing the Russian sapphire he had given her, which, unbeknownst to him at the time, was believed to have been cursed.
Following Grace’s murder, Tommy distanced himself from his family. He went to Wales with Johnny Dogs to see a gypsy woman, Madam Boswell, to verify that the sapphire he’d been given by the Russians was indeed cursed. She told him it was, granting him a form of absolution (he doesn’t believe in priests).
Tommy’s fling with Grand Duchess Tatiana Romanov was dangerous and chaotic. She tried to teach him how to inhabit a grand house like his, and how to have absolute power over his servants. She played Russian Roulette and asphyxiated him during sex so he could experience “Siberian Breath” and make love to Grace’s ghost. When they parted, she asked him to pay her five thousand pounds for helping him get over the loss of his wife. “You didn’t even come close,” he told her.
Tommy started the series under huge pressure. He was blackmailed into dealing with the Russians and committing the factory robbery on the threat of the family being hanged for its various misdeeds. He tried to stay one step ahead of both Father Hughes and the Russians, but it almost cost him his life and that of his son. When Hughes discovered Tommy planned to kill him (after Polly drunkenly confessed the plan to another priest in the confessional), the Father had him severely beaten. The attack took months to recover from, leaving Tommy needing glasses and with a head “like a smashed vase what has been stuck back together by an horse,” in the words of Alfie Solomons.
Trust was Tommy’s major problem in series three. He felt he couldn’t trust his family, and eventually, did something that would likely lose him their trust for good. In the finale, having wronged the Economic League by killing Father Hughes, Tommy knew that his family faced retribution. So he made a deal with people more powerful than the Economic League to give evidence against them. His deal involved the whole family, save him, going to prison. It would all end okay, he assured his brothers and aunt as they were dragged away by police and loaded into meat wagons. Trust him.
Peaky Blinders series four starts on Wednesday the 15th of November at 9pm on BBC Two.