Peaky Blinders recap: series six, episode two – who is the grey man?

Desperate times for the Shelbys, as Tommy and his daughter Ruby both descend into hell. Are they cursed – and is there anyone who can lift it?

A host of real-life figures appeared. So did frenemies old and new. But is it goodbye, Ruby Shelby? Here’s your breakdown of Black Shirt.

Like father, like daughter

She was having visions of the devil last week. Happily, as doting dad Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) arrived home from his transatlantic business trip, daughter Ruby (Orla McDonagh, who also appears in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast) had recovered. Tommy took her straight for a checkup by Dr Robert (not that one). She got the all-clear. Credit that black Madonna magic.

Instead, it was Tommy who needed a doctor. He was sleepless with worry and threw up again. Ever more detached, according to Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe), he was “speaking like you’re watching everything on a screen”. She later found him convulsing on the bathroom floor, flashing back to the first man he ever killed, a Prussian cavalryman in the French trenches. Evidence that he’s still fighting the war in his head. He suffered a similar seizure on the steamer from the US, then another in Westminster. Could it be his health, rather than another person, that defeats him?

Before the credits rolled, Ruby had a worrying relapse. Her drawings looked disturbed and she heard voices coming from the chimney – except it wasn’t Santa. “The grey man is coming for me and daddy,” she told a terrified Lizzie. Is a Gypsy curse at play? Is she possessed by the spirit of Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory)? Did last week’s “green-eyed man” represent Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin), the ghost of Tommy’s Prussian foe or envious cousin Michael (Finn Cole)? More practically, was it tuberculosis? After all, Ruby was feverish and coughing up blood.

Desperate times called for long-lost in-laws. Tommy summoned Esme Shelby (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), Gypsy widow of his murdered brother John (Joe Cole, now scheduled against his former cast-mates in The Ipcress File on ITV). Last seen at John’s funeral in series four, Esme always said the Shelbys were cursed. Can she help lift it? Either way, it’ll be fun to meet the firecracker again.

‘Opium and presidents? Fuck’

More than just a menswear icon … Tommy.
More than just a menswear icon … Tommy. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.

He’s not just an import/export mogul and menswear icon. Tommy is also, of course, MP for Birmingham South. We saw him in parliament, putting forward a radical public housing bill while Mosley and Winston Churchill (Neil Maskell), in his backbench “wilderness years”, looked on approvingly.

First, though, Tommy gave a rousing speech to the local Labour party, insisting that his comrades won’t be silenced by Westminster about wealth inequality. In the admiring audience was IRA contact Captain Swing (Charlene McKenna, who is increasingly resembling a member of La Résistance from ’Allo ’Allo!) – or Laura McKee, to use her real name. Tommy had been doing his homework.

Over glasses of water in the Garrison – it was “four years, one month and six days” since Tommy’s last drink, not that he was counting – he laid out his proposal. American east coast crime kingpin Jack Nelson was en route to London, ostensibly to secure liquor licences but really on a fact-finding mission, gauging support for fascism on behalf of the new US president, Franklin D Roosevelt.

Tommy and McKee would play along, meeting “Uncle Jack” at the idealistic intersection of socialism and nationalism. Tommy would arrange access to Mosley and other high-society Nazi sympathisers. She’d promise him the support of Dublin. In return, Nelson would let them ship opium into Boston. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, as sister Ada (Sophie Rundle) said: “You’re still looking for trouble big enough to kill you.” Tommy might do well to listen to his smartest sibling.

What’s it all about, Alfie?

Tom Hardy as Alfie Solomons.
Chewing the scenery … Tom Hardy as Alfie Solomons. Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.

Descending in an Angel Heart-like lift, shot through a red filter – the hell metaphors were hardly subtle – Tommy visited an old ally in the cellars beneath Camden Town. Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) was listening to “fat people shouting” and planning the final act of his own operatic life. He might have become reclusive, but he still had a taste for scenery-chewing.

First Tommy appealed to Alfie’s lust for vengeance by reminding him that his uncle Charles had been shot by rival gangsters in east Boston. He followed up with an offer to sell his opium to the city’s Jewish mob, tipping the balance of power back towards the Solomons family. Tommy was playing a dangerous double-crossing game. He can’t peddle his powdery wares to both sides of the Boston divide. Can he?

Mosley and Mitford meant double trouble

A terrifying union … Sam Claflin and Amber Anderson as Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford.
A terrifying union … Sam Claflin and Amber Anderson as Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.

As we met Mosley for the first time this series, he was fine-tuning the podium lighting for his fascist rally. The British Union of Fascists leader was now joined at the hip with his very own Lady Macbeth: future wife Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson), styling herself as “Oswald’s most recent and last ever mistress”.

While protests raged outside, the couple schmoozed the Shelbys backstage, with several mentions of “our friend in Berlin”. Lady Di rattled Lizzie with her patronising barbs, like an aristocratic Mean Girl. Lizzie bit back by pointing out that she’d “fucked your future husband”. I don’t predict a firm friendship. Still, Mosley agreed to meet Nelson. Eyes on the prize, “Elizabeth”.

Arthur sent to Peaky Priory

Bad Santa fell off the sleigh again. Errant enforcer Arthur (Paul Anderson) got high on the Shelbys’ supply and was found in an alleyway with a needle hanging out of his arm. Just say no, kids.

When Arthur made a shouty display of himself at Mosley’s rally, Tommy stepped in at last. He slapped some sense into his big brother and dangled a marital carrot. He’d tracked down Arthur’s estranged wife, Linda (Kate Phillips), and written asking for her “Christian forgiveness”. If Arthur stayed clean, he’d contact Linda again. It seemed to do the trick. The siblings celebrated in the traditional way – by brutally beating up a posse of Mosley’s blackshirts. Arthur’s return to match fitness will be welcome. He’s wasted being wasted.

Uncle Jack was no regular Joe

James Frecheville as Uncle Jack.
Inspired by JFK’s father … James Frecheville as Uncle Jack. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.

Where better for two “working-class Catholic boys” to rendezvous than church? We were finally introduced to Boston-Irish mob boss Jack Nelson (James Frecheville). Unlike many of Tommy’s cartoonish frenemies, Australian actor Frecheville played Jack with understated, smoothly sinister charm. The scene was shot in Liverpool Cathedral – actually an Anglican church but Britain’s biggest religious building, trivia fans.

Nelson might be a fictional character but writer Steven Knight had clearly taken inspiration from Joseph P Kennedy Sr. The father of JFK, Ted and Bobby also imported Scotch whisky to the US post-prohibition, was an influential FDR ally, an antisemite and travelled here so regularly that he later became US ambassador to the UK.

Once again, Tommy did his sales pitch. In exchange for access to Boston’s south side, he’d not only introduce Nelson to influential “like minds” but offer insider intel on Churchill’s anti-fascist strategies. If not, Tommy would sell his opium to the Jews. Political operator Nelson agreed to think about it. Just time for London-bound niece Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy) to get in his ear.

Line of the week

I enjoyed Tommy drily noting: “Moral Turpitude is a good name for a racehorse.” However, the prize goes to his summation of Aunt Polly’s politics: “Beneath all the gold and diamonds, mink and lace, she was a solid socialist.” What, no champagne?

Anachronistic soundtrack-spotting

Alfie was listening to Puccini’s aria Nessun Dorma (a nod to Tommy’s insomnia?), while Mosley arrived to Death From Above’s aptly titled DieMonsterDie. We also got this series’ first airing of Nick Cave’s theme song over the closing credits. There’s a gathering storm all right.

Notes and observations

  • An amusing cameo from Arthur’s longsuffering babysitter Johnny Dogs (Packy Lee) with his eye-rolling mantra “For fock’s sake”.

  • James Frecheville is best known as Joshua “J” Cody in Aussie gangster flick Animal Kingdom. In the TV version, the same character is portrayed by Finn Cole – yep, Peaky’s own Michael Gray.

  • Still no sign of Stephen Graham’s mysterious new Liverpudlian character. Come ‘ed, lad.

Stick a fiver each-way on Moral Turpitude, then share your thoughts, theories and Ruby diagnoses below …


Michael Hogan

The GuardianTramp

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