'Peaky Blinders' Starts Season 6 With an Emotional Tribute to Helen McCrory

'Peaky Blinders' Starts Season 6 With an Emotional Tribute to Helen McCrory
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The following story contains spoilers for Peaky Blinders Season 6.

There’s a hole in the heart of Peaky Blinders Season 6, and that absence is felt immediately. In the opening moments, we learn the force behind the failed assassination attempt on Oswald Mosley: the IRA. We also learn the consequence of the attempt: Polly Gray. Captain Swing informs Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) that Polly represents a crutch he can no longer lean on. The Shelby organization will be restructured, Swing says. The IRA has already made it happen.

The scene was the result of off-screen loss. Helen McCrory, who plays Aunt Polly, passed away in April of last year after battling cancer.

A month later, while still filming the final season, Murphy told Men’s Health about the continued impact of the loss. “I’m deeply saddened and still trying to get over it,” he said. “It’s hard to think of the series without her. She was so much a part of that.”

McCrory was ready to film the final season in 2020. The season was set to begin production in March. It was ultimately delayed due to Covid-19. The original schedule called for a 78-day shoot, ending in July 2020. Instead, the crew couldn’t begin filming until January 2021. By then, McCrory was unable to appear on set.

In previous interviews, creator Steven Knight said that the character of Aunt Polly was supposed to survive through the end of the series. The Season 6 script apparently had to be revised, with Polly written out.

In an interview with Empire Magazine, Murphy shared his reaction to the events leading up to filming.

“What I always feel sad about is that we were about to shoot and then the pandemic happened and we had to stop. If we had shot then, Helen would've been in the show, and that makes me feel sad. It's a huge loss; it's hard to comprehend it. Because she was the matriarch of the whole thing. As the character, but just also as her personality.”

Murphy pointed out that McCrory is still very much part of the final season. “Steve [Knight] has managed to keep her very, very present, which I think is a brilliant tribute,” he went on to say in that same interview.

Photo credit: Netflix/BBC
Photo credit: Netflix/BBC

After the opening scene where Tommy learns of Polly’s death, the Shelbys have a funeral for Polly, which includes a wagon pyre, a tradition in keeping with the family’s roots. An effigy is burned, too. No music is played in the final cut of the scene. Instead, we see the somber faces of each Shelby, watching the fire. It’s a somber tribute both to the character and to McCrory—for whom the episode is dedicated.

Polly’s death also motivates one of the major conflicts this season: the battle between Tommy and Michael, who vows revenge after blaming Tommy for his mother’s death. Polly’s absence also sends Tommy into a spiral of spiritual guilt and soul-searching. Even without McCrory on set to reprise her role, her character still acts as the central figure of Season 6—her absence a hole that each character attempts to fill.

After the episode aired in the U.K., fans immediately took to social media, reacting to the emotional tribute.

The scene features over a minute of silence.

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