Peaky Blinders recap: series six, episode four – is Tommy his own worst enemy?

As the series moved beyond the halfway point, tragedy continued to stalk the Shelby family – alongside a little brotherly bonding and fascism coming to the fore

A shock diagnosis, a secret son and a reluctant salute. Here’s your full medical examination of episode four, Sapphire …

The enemy within

“I understand you have defeated many enemies, Mr Shelby. Now you have a new one inside you. You cannot defeat it – but you can keep it at bay for a while.” Oh, Tommy. It was a Shakespearean inevitability that our death-dodging antihero would ultimately prove to be his own worst foe.

Kudos to commenters who called Tommy’s brain tumour two weeks ago. All episode, he’d been ignoring ominous letters and urgent calls from the hospital. Tommy (Cillian Murphy) could hide no longer when he received a house call from Dr Holford (Aneurin Barnard) and got his devastating news.

X-rays showed a shadow at the base of his skull. He had tuberculoma in his brain stem, a growth caused by the same bacteria as the lung disease, doubtless picked up from daughter Ruby (Orla McDonagh). It wasn’t infectious but it was inoperable. The symptoms (seizures, dissociation, hallucinations, sharp cheekbones – I may have added the last one) chimed with Tommy’s. As the tumour grew, his deterioration would accelerate.

The one man Tommy Shelby can’t defeat …
The one man Tommy Shelby can’t defeat … Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.

When Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe, again on excellent form) interrupted, it was agonising how Tommy hastily pretended that Holford was his accountant and coded the end of their conversation in financial terms. How long did he have before he’d need round-the-clock care? A year to 18 months. Long enough to get him through the two remaining episodes of this series, but what about the confirmed film sequel? Barring medical miracles, bang go theories that it will leapfrog forward five years to the second world war – unless it’s without Tommy.

We left him talking to the spirit of Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory): “I’m not a devil, just an ordinary mortal man … Just give me enough time to do what I have to do.” A terminally ill man committing crimes to ensure his family’s financial security after his death? Welcome to the Brummie Breaking Bad.

Ruby’s funeral put father on warpath

A sombre opening sequence saw Charlie Strong (Ned Dennehy) open his salvage yard gates for Ruby’s funeral. With its boats and horses, it was the seven-year-old’s favourite place to play. The sight of a child-sized coffin made it all the more poignant. With visual echoes of episode one’s send-off for Polly, the 10-minute scene was beautifully shot by director Anthony Byrne – all bluey-grey filters and eerie morning mist, every frame like a painting.

An emotional Tommy asked big bruv Arthur (Paul Anderson) to read the eulogy but he was too bowed and broken. Perhaps no bad thing. Remember series three’s disastrous best man’s speech? “The devils who did this will pay, Ruby,” vowed her father, striding away from his distraught wife, Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe, excellent again) on a revenge mission.

Cut to him striding into a woodland Gypsy camp, declaring that he was there on behalf of the blue sapphire before coldly gunning down Evadne Barwell (Gwynne McElveen), along with three male campmates. It was Barwell who’d put a hex on Ruby in revenge for the cursed Russian gem killing her own daughter. Would payback make Tommy feel better? Not really. He smashed his rifle against a tree and fell tearfully to his knees.

His hitman act hardly endeared him to Lizzie, either. Despite Tommy’s promises about becoming a better man, he dealt with grief by throwing himself into work and firing guns in fury. His horse, Grace’s Secret, provided poor Lizzie with more comfort.

‘A daughter lost, a son found’

It was sister-in-law Esme Shelby-Lee (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) who tracked down the wild Barwell tribe on Tommy’s behalf. When he delivered Esme’s payment, she dropped another bombshell. Tommy slept with a girl called Zelda in May 1914, two months before he left for the Great War, and fathered a son he never knew he had: the nobly named Duke, now in his late teens and a thief (attaboy) who works at fairgrounds.

No fairytale reunion here. Tommy was in no fit state and ain’t that type of guy. But we can expect light-fingered Duke Shelby to play a bigger part over the next fortnight. He wants more from life than big wheels and carousels. He could be about to get it.

Guess who’s coming for dinner?

Last week saw power-brokers invited to Tommy’s house to discuss the new world order. Despite it being four days since Ruby’s death, this secret summit went ahead. Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin) and Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson) were first down the driveway, followed by IRA leader Laura McKee (Charlene McKenna) and finally cigar-puffing Boston mob boss Jack Nelson (James Frecheville).

While they waited for Tommy, Diana Mitford boasted about attending a similar gathering in Berlin with Göring, Himmler and Hitler himself – after which the entertainment was to watch Jews being humiliatingly force-fed grass. Despicable Di’s comeuppance can’t arrive quick enough.

Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford, played by Sam Claflin and Amber Anderson.
Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford, played by Sam Claflin and Amber Anderson. Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.

When Tommy emerged, Mitford made eyes at him once again. The message for Uncle Jack Nelson to relay to President Roosevelt was that Mosley could be a bulwark against communist insurgency. England was on the brink of fascism. McKee said working-class Irish republicans only needed a nudge to turn the same way. But did Labour MP Tommy truly believe in “the cause”? Face like thunder and the words sticking in his throat, he joined Mosley in a “Perish Judah” salute to prove his commitment. Chilling, even in a drama set 90 years ago.

It did the trick. Nelson declared Boston open for the export of weapons to the IRA and the import of Tommy’s drugs. The shadowy meeting, with its sidelong looks and spinning cameras, was adjourned.

Gruesome twosome

In Westminster, the phone was ringing off the hook. Tommy had spies at the flat that Mosley uses to conduct affairs and they came up trumps. Mosley was enthusiastically in flagrante with Michael’s wife, Gina, (Anya Taylor-Joy). So much for her talk of trust and fidelity.

Once Mosley left, Tommy barged in to let Gina know he now had leverage. In return for not telling Jack or Michael, Tommy ordered Gina to be his spy in Berlin when Mosley met senior members of the German government. When he asked Michael’s true intentions towards him, Gina lied that her husband was strictly about the Boston deal. Tommy smiled. Yeah, right.

Fascists outside and in

Relieved of stand-in boss duties, sister Ada (Sophie Rundle) was putting daughter Elizabeth to bed when a racist threat came through the window, tied to a brick. She fearlessly confronted fascist thugs outside her Mayfair home, dispersing them with a knee to the groin and the wave of her gun.

Safely back inside, she was shocked to realise that teen son Karl (Callum Booth-Ford) was a trainee racist, too. He sneered that his mixed-race baby sister – fathered by Col Ben Younger (Kingsley Ben-Adir) last series before he was blown up in a car bomb – would “get them killed” and be “sent back to Africa”.

Ada gave him pleasingly short shrift, reminding Karl that he had Gypsy blood. What’s more, he was half-Jewish. His late father, Freddie Thorne (played by Israel-born actor Iddo Goldberg in series one), was the son of a Jewish tailor who’d westernised his surname. A sobering illustration of the pernicious rise of far-right radicalisation and the lazy ignorance of bigots.

Brotherly bonding did no good

Down in Tommy’s cellar, alone in the dark, was Arthur, still struggling with opium withdrawal. When Tommy went down to join his brother-in-arms, it was as if they were tunnellers beneath no man’s land again. The nostalgic mood continued as they exchanged childhood reminiscences, albeit mainly about fighting.

The sweet scene between the siblings momentarily looked like it might ease both their troubles. “You’ll change your ways and I’ll change the fucking world,” said Tommy, shaking hands and falling off the wagon with a swig of red wine to seal the deal.

Brothers at arm’s length … Arthur (Paul Anderson) and Tommy …
Brothers at arm’s length … Arthur (Paul Anderson) and Tommy … Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions Ltd.

Hopes for a clean and serene Arthur renaissance proved equally in vain. He was soon tearing apart Chinatown opium dens, which had been ordered not to sell to him any more, before slumping in an alley with fistfuls of junk. Come back to us, Arthur. Tommy needs you. Viewers need you.

Line of the week

Plenty of serious stuff this episode, but there was some welcome light relief. When monstrous Mitford horrified fellow guests with that grim anecdote, Mosley snorted with mirth and indulgently replied: “Oh Diana, you’ve killed the mood.” You can say that again.

Anachronistic soundtrack-spotting

The most musical episode of the series so far began with a pair of plaintive Sinéad O’Connor ballads, In This Heart and Lullaby For Cain. But tune of the week goes to Irish folk singer Lisa O’Neill’s Blackbird, which segued hauntingly out of Charlene McKenna’s rendition of The Black Velvet Band.

Notes and observations

  • We only glimpsed him fleetingly, but new arrival Duke is played by Conrad Khan, who previously appeared in BBC One stablemate Baptiste. His performance in the 2019 film County Lines earned him a Bafta rising star nomination.

  • Always reassuring to see Frances (Pauline Turner), Tommy’s loyal housekeeper for three series now. If she falls, the Shelbys fall.

  • Doctor-and-patient Aneurin Barnard and Cillian Murphy previously appeared together in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

By order of the Peaky Blinders, please share your medical second opinions, Duke thoughts and home stretch theories below …


Michael Hogan

The GuardianTramp

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