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TV interview: Helen McCrory

Helen McCrory.

Helen McCrory.

She may be getting older but Helen McCrory still has her pick of the roles. She spills the beans and tells us how what really scared her on the set of her new gritty gangster romp.

Inside what at first appears to be a Seventies office block, something extraordinary is going on.

The building’s actually a TV studio in Leeds, where screen stars Helen McCrory, Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill and others are filming scenes for Peaky Blinders.

The new BBC gangster saga’s based on a real-life Birmingham gang, who embarked on a reign of terror following the First World War.

While the men are called away for filming, McCrory, still beautifully coiffed and with the glamorous feather boa her character wears draped around her shoulders, is more than willing to chat about her latest project.

“I’m very well versed in criminality,” she says, laughing, when asked if the gangster world is one she’s familiar with.

“No, of course not,” she adds. “It’s a world we don’t know about.”

What she is familiar with, however, is the work of Steven Knight, who wrote the screenplay. He also penned Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, but this is his first drama series. It was inspired by the stories his family used to tell, of Birmingham-based gangs who would sew razor blades into their flat caps - which they used as weapons to enforce their rules on anybody who dared step out of line.

“The heroes and the archetypes... It’s like a Western in many ways.” remarks McCrory, 45. “It’s such an interesting world and they were characters I hadn’t read before.”

She plays Polly Gray, the aunt of Murphy’s character Tommy Shelby and his older brother Arthur (Paul Anderson). While her nephews were away fighting in the war, she kept the family together, but since their return her status as head of the clan’s ebbed away.

“She’s the sister of the mother of Tommy and Arthur,” explains the actress, who previously starred in the Harry Potter films. “The much younger sister, obviously. We don’t know what’s happened to the father of her own children, and we don’t know what’s happened to her children either - but we find out.”

Sporting extreme ‘short back and sides’ haircuts, the male characters cut a menacing figure. Just seeing them huddled together on set is slightly intimidating.

“I’m supposed to be half Liverpool-Irish, half gypsy and living in Birmingham.”

Peaky Blinders starts on BBC Two on Thursday, September 12th

 

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