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Over the course of its six seasons, Peaky Blinders amassed a slew of memorable characters, yet for all of the gangsters, political agitators, and dangerous dames, few stood out quite as prominently as the enigmatic Polly Gray, played with aplomb by actress Helen McCrory. Last spring, McCrory tragically passed away at the age of 52, following a battle with cancer. Since then, her Peaky Blinders costars and crew have shared many heartwarming memories of the beloved actress.
"Helen’s performance as Polly Gray was inspirational, joyous, transgressive, hilarious and incredibly moving," the show's official Twitter shared after the news of her death was announced. "As a person she was off-the-scale charismatic, and deeply caring. We feel so privileged to have worked with her over the last decade. All our thoughts and love are with Damian and family.”
As we prepare for the return of the show's final season (don't worry, there's still a movie on the way!) here's a look back at what made McCrory so impactful to the show and those who made it.
Steven Knight, Creator
"Helen was one of the great actors of her generation. She was so powerful and controlled and this is so sad," Knight said.
He later went into more detail, reflecting on McCrory's contribution to the show, and the decision to continue without her in the final season.
"It was a terrible, tragic loss that happened while we were shooting. And the loss of such an incredible human being is the main thing. The loss of such an incredible actor is awful," he said in 2022. "She was right at the heart [of the show]. There are three central characters—she was one of them. And it’s a challenge, and was a challenge, to keep going with the story without her. But we knew that she would have wanted that to continue. So that’s what we did."
Cillian Murphy, Tommy Shelby
The relationship between the Peaky gangleader Tommy and the Shelby family matriarch, his aunt Polly, is one of the most pivotal on Peaky Blinders, so it was only natural that their real life counterparts, McCrory and Murphy would also share a close bond.
Shortly after her passing was announced, Murphy shared a sweet tribute to his Instagram.
“I am broken-hearted to lose such a dear friend," he wrote in the caption. "Helen was a beautiful, caring, funny, compassionate human being. She was also a gifted actor — fearless and magnificent. She elevated and made humane every scene, every character she played. It was a privilege to have worked with this brilliant woman, to have shared so many laughs over the years. I will dearly miss my pal. My love and thoughts are with Damian and her family.”
Later, in December, Murphy also penned a poignant obituary in the Observer. "Helen had this genuine compassion. It was part of her DNA," he wrote, " She wasn’t an actor who turned up, did the gig and went home. All the way through Peaky Blinders, she would chat to members of the crew as well as the actors. She knew everyone’s name. It’s a huge collaboration making a series like that and it’s easy to think it’s only about the actors, but she was always very aware of the collective aspect of what we do."
He added, "She was so funny, very dry and self-deprecating. With a series like Peaky Blinders, when you’re in it for the long haul, you really need to have a partner on set that you can laugh and joke with. If I was worried about anything, I’d go and see her. Helen was my closest pal on the set and I think I can say that the same was the case for her."
Anthony Byrne, Director
Though McCrory will not appear in the show's final season or the film, her presence was nonetheless felt on set. While announcing the wrap of filming on season six, Byrne shared an image with a sweet tribute to the late star.
In the photo, Bryne holds a clapboard emblazoned with an image of McCrory, designed by Manchester tattoo artist Lauren Marie Sutton. Byrne originally shared a look at the clapboard a few days after the news broke of McCrory's death, saying that "It has meant a huge amount to me and the crew on Peaky to have an image of Helen on set with us everyday."
Paul Anderson, Arthur Shelby
Tommy's relationship with his aunt may have been essential to Peaky Blinders, but he wasn't Polly's only nephew. Anderson, who plays Tommy's volatile brother Arthur, shared his own tribute to the late actress.
"To my Aunt Polly. Helen McCrory. 9 and a half years on a tv show with a woman who I more than loved," he wrote in a caption on Instagram along with a photo of himself, McCrory, and Murphy. "One afternoon on Season 5, she offered up her time to me when she could see that I needed it the most and I will never forget that. Her generosity of spirit, selflessness and ferocity will remain with me forever. My love and thoughts are with Damian and family."
Sophie Rundle, Ada Shelby
The Shelby women are a powerful group, and Rundle, who played Polly's niece Ada, obviously felt the same held true of McCrory.
"God she was so fucking cool though. It is entirely senseless and brutal to lose Helen, she was an extraordinary and remarkable person," Rundle shared on Instagram. "Quite shockingly talented. What a privilege to have worked with her these past years, I can’t overstate how much I admired her. My thoughts are with her family and loved ones. Our Pol. What a heavy loss. We will miss her so dearly."
Later, she told You, "I consider Helen to have been the heart of this show." She added, "We were all completely devastated by losing her, because she was part of the family. Helen pushed you to be better, because she didn’t take laziness at all. She made Polly so mercurial and so exciting to watch because she had that rare magic as an actor."
Finn Cole, Michael Gray
McCrory's onscreen son also paid homage to the actress with a snap of the two of them on set.
"Mother, wife, and an all round amazing role model. A force of nature who’s advise I’ll carry forever," he wrote. "From day 1 on Peaky I felt blessed, and I will always aspire to be as awesome as Helen McCrory. Thank you mum. Rest easy x"
Natasha O’Keeffe, Lizzie
"I’m still reeling from losing her. It’s still shocking. I just can’t quite believe it. The grief hits me in waves," the actress, who plays Tommy's former secretary/lover and current wife told You in 2022, explaining that even after McCrory's passing, her presence was still felt on set. "I didn’t really talk to people about this, but I’d almost speak to her before some of my takes. She was very much there with me. I asked her for guidance."
Caryn Mandabach, Executive Producer
"When Steve first conceived of the character of Polly, he said that if something should happen to Tommy, Polly would run the business," Mandabach told Deadline. "Only an actress with the depth of humanity that Helen possessed could have taken on that mantle. In truth I wish that Helen could have run the world’s business, because she was that cool."
Sam Clafin, Oswald Mosley
Though Clafin's Oswald Mosley was far from the Shelby family's favorite man onscreen, the actor had nothing but kind things to say about McCrory in real life.
"Helen McCrory. Thank you for all you have done. For all that you brought. And all you have left. You have been a teacher. A guide. A leader. An inspiration. And a friend, to so many," he wrote in a caption on Instagram. "Any time I was ever fortunate enough to see your face across a crowded room, I felt ok. You were such a strong presence. Such a gifted and versatile actor. Such a kind and generous person. And you will be missed. Love and strength to you and yours."
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