Peaky Blinders: Fighting to play Grace

Thursday 19 September 2013, 11:19

Annabelle Wallis Annabelle Wallis Actress

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Attention: This post contains spoilers and is intended for viewers who have already seen episode one of Peaky Blinders.

When I first read the script for Peaky Blinders I was instantly enthralled by it.

Set in 1919 within the fast-paced and exciting post war slums of Birmingham, I instantly fell for the role of Grace. Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy), Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis), Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson), John Shelby (Joe Cole) A man's world: Grace (Annabelle Wallis) flanked by the Peaky Blinders  

Steve Knight had written the most powerfully strong and strikingly intelligent female roles.

They are feisty and fearless with sharp intellect and this so matches up with how I see womankind. This is what women are like!

Steve had written his female characters in the form of so many women I know in my life. I think the draw of the show is that women and men will relate to these complex, flawed, beautiful characters.

My character Grace has a mystery about her and I was fascinated by her strength.

The bravery that drives Grace into the lair of the notorious Peaky Blinders gang made her fascinating to me.

Driven by some kind of disturbing loss she is a powerhouse of strength and a match to any man, particularly at a time so unlike our own when women were considered second class citizens and female education was not encouraged.
Aunt Polly Gray (Helen McCrory) 'This whole enterprise was women's business while you boys were at war' Aunt Pol (Helen McCrory)

Women were denied the right to vote unless they were 30 and met the minimum property qualifications.

With all the factors against women at the time, her absolute fearlessness and almost maddening bravery and dedication to her cause meant that I had to fight my hardest to have the chance to play her.

Parts like that don't come along very often.

Taking into account all the above factors you'd expect Grace to be hardened by the time she lived in, but she has this unexpected relatable fragility about her.

A fragility that (I hope!) makes the audience like and root for her as she comes from such an honest place.

The beauty in people I find are in their flaws and Grace is hugely flawed and knows it.

From the moment I read her I wanted to follow her journey until I understood her completely.

When taking on the part there was of course so much research to be done as it was set in such an incredible time in British history.

Try to imagine your life in the throes of a world war with the young men in your city, town, village sent away without a choice.

There was the suffragette movement fighting for women’s right to vote, the Separatist movement in Ireland and then a horrific world war.

I wanted to get inside these people’s heads and do my best to understand the pressures upon them.

What would it be like for a generation of men and women at the end of a war who suffer with post-traumatic stress?

It was so much to do with the politics of the time that triggered certain groups of people like the Peaky Blinders, and understanding their use of violence as a form of expression and as their voice.

Grace is a double-agent, she has many different sides. She plays both Campbell and Tommy to a T!

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Off to the races: Grace and Tommy (Cillian Murphy) get ready to meet Billy Kimber

It was hard because I never thought her true intention was to harm but her conviction and dedication to her cause is unwavering, meaning standing by choices that you know could potentially harm her.

What I love is that Tommy, this dangerous and feared man, becomes her moral compass.

A woman you thought was unwavering at the start eventually gives you a sense that she is beginning to feel. She is human like us all.

We all make mistakes and cause hurt and pain... Let’s see what lies ahead for our Grace. Chief Inspector Campbell (SAM NEILL) Grace Burgess (ANNABELLE WALLIS) Grace receives new information from Chief Inspector Campbell (Sam Neill)

The beauty of Peaky Blinders is also in the way it is shot. In the hands of Otto Bathurst and Tom Harper it looks like it’s made for the cinema and it felt like a movie on set.

The locations and sets were epic! Most of the filming took place in Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool or often we were pitched up in a muddy field somewhere.

We were generally damp and bloody freezing! But in all honesty the conditions helped as it made it more real.

Sincerely I couldn’t have done it without my handsome co-stars telling me my nose was dribbling in the cold every five minutes... a sure way to make you feel very unsexy!

When you’re on a set like Peaky Blinders you don't want to leave. I'm sure most people can relate to being at work or doing something with people and feeling like it’s something really special.

You feed off everyone’s excitement and the sheer level of talent in all departments meant you wanted to work your hardest not to let them all down.

When that is the general consensus of the cast, crew and production team... it made for a unique environment. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did making it.

Annabelle Wallis plays Grace Burgess in Peaky Blinders.

Peaky Blinders continues with episode two at 9pm on Thursday, 19 September on BBC Two and BBC Two HD. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

More on Peaky Blinders
BBC News: Birmingham's real Peaky Blinders
Daily Mail: The real Peaky Blinders
Express & Star: I hate period TV shows - but Peaky Blinders was rock 'n' roll
The Telegraph: Peaky Blinders, BBC Two, review
The Guardian: TV and radio blog + Peaky Blinders: episode by episode

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I am a fan of The Wire but the Peaky Blinders is a real blinder of a drama ! The score is hauntingly memorable, eminently exportable with the cast and character together with the visualisation of the early 20th century that will put this series at the very top of most peoples wish list ! Congratulations BBC for the excellent commissioning of brilliant entertainment that will surely get the world talking !
    Fell in love with Grace but don't tell the wife !

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I am really enjoying the show but the accents are not right, I though it was in Liverpool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    "They are feisty and fearless with sharp intellect and this so matches up with how I see womankind. This is what women are like!"

    Why do people come out with this nonsense? Humankind is full of feisty and shy and fearless and meek and sharply intellectual and dull-witted. This ridiculous 'girl power!' cheerleading from women promoting an erroneous sisterhood is what feminism has now come to: risible banalities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.


    the storyline was good, the acting good, the accents a bit iffy... but the music :-(
    I watched the first episode, cringed at the second and haven't bothered to watch the third..

    crashing electric guitars are completely at odds with the period and completely spoilt my enjoyment

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    It's a superb drama, but Campbell's Belfast accent is awful !! Time for a new accent coach !

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    What a dynamic piece of drama! Outstanding. How on earth did Stephen King research all of this. The pathos of the piece is perfect. Is Tommy a hero or anti hero haunted by the tunnels he dug under the trenches and finding solace in opium? This really conveys how men struggled with the sacrifice they made and then found themselves on the cobbled streets of tenements with no home for heroes and we see how they somehow, if at all reconciled myself. Yes. The contrasting contemporary music works. I love you BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Cool show, Music is growing on me, no adverts, what a pleasure. Accents don't bother me as I am not from round here. Can't wait for next weeks show.

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    Comment number 8.

    Steve Knight, the writer and creator is my cousin and I assure you he has attempted to portray the Small Heath, Birmingham that our mum's lived through in the 20's onwards. Our Nan's name was Ada and Ada in the film is about the same age as our Nan would have been around the time of the the drama? The scenes and plots are reminiscent of the tales my mum used to tell. If she were still here I am sure she would have been glued to the screen?

    I find Peaky Blinders intriguing as I find it hard to distinguish the goodies from the baddies? I have PTSD myself and Tommy's portrayal of a post WW1 PTSD sufferer is disturbingly authentic for me personally; Steve has done his home work on PTSD in my opinion but I am sure he researched that for Jason Statham's role in the recent film "Hummingbird"

    Michael George

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    Comment number 9.

    DREADFUL attempts at the Birmingham accent, when will somebody get this right?
    I can't watch it because of this reason!
    It can't be that difficult... Surely?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    What a great, drama, it uses Birmingham well , I thank you for that, good old Brumagem

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Best television I have watched in a long time. The story is compeling, the acting is top class and the visual imagery of it all is brilliant. If you look for disappoint in an accent you will find it. I love the contemporary feel to it and the music is a perfect partner to the dialogue and the characters. Such clever us of the music gives this old story a very modern edge. I want to watch it all in one go!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I think the programme is brilliant but I agree about the accents. Perhaps Pol (Helen McCorry) could ask her real life husband to help her out with the accent. Damien Lewis did a good Brummie accent on Have I Got News For You!

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    Comment number 13.

    You're too finicky - I like the discordant music, which along with everything else is making this series a real little classic. Well done to all involved!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Absolutely stunning production that can only be described as the Brits winning the Oscars over Gangs of New York for realism and grit. Good and honest approach to the bleak times of post war struggles. The acting and cast are flawless. Some doubt has been placed at the use of "modern music" as an accompaniment but... otherwise it would be just a "working man's Downton Abbey".
    Brilliant - only too pleased that the BBC are starting to put together some very enjoyable productions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Couldn't understand a thing for the first two episodes and that wasn't just the accents! - Episode three finally hooked me in. The soundtrack is inspired I love it !

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    "...she is a powerhouse of strength and a match to any man"

    Why does the BBC voice statements (whether spoken by a man or woman) which have as their starting point that men are better than women? Even should this view be removed it is still deeply worrying that the BBC are happy to represent such a fundamental and I would have hoped outdated prejudice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    On a question of authenticity,they are shown smoking Sweet Afton cigarettes in the pub.
    AFAIK these were an Irish cigarette not sold in England.
    Am I correct, does anybody know or care for that matter?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    LOVING this drama. Beautifully shot. Cillian Murphy is superb. Who cares if the accents aren't spot on!

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    Comment number 19.

    The programme is great but the 'short back and side' haircuts are ridiculous. They are no way representative of professional barbering at that time. My father kept the same haircut all his life. Barbers haircuts cuts were gradually tapered then clipped in. The cut your hairdresser has done were 'pudding basin' cuts. A sign of home barbering

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Brilliant intelligent drama though speech could be clearer look forward to each episode


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