Tom Hardy gives a master class on acting in the third season of Peaky Blinders.
I watched last night the third season finale’s episode of the Netflix show Peaky Blinders, in which Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy) has his come back to play a decisive role with the leader of the Shelby family Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy).
There is a scene towards the end of the episode that stroke to me as a masterclass in acting given by both Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy. This blog post will cover all the aspects, preparation techniques and diagram flow of what presumably Tom Hardy worked on from the day he was handed the script to the moment the director screamed “Action!“.
Keep reading at your own risk since I talk about the plot of the episode.
Peaky Blinders Season 3 Episode 6
The scene spans from 18:30 to 24:50 – That´s a 6 min and 2 seconds scene right off the bat. A screenplay writer usually creates 5 to 10min long scenes inside their plays that have establishment-development-solution kind of arcs. They are usually loaded with beat changes of the four kinds: emotional change, new information, addition/subtraction of a character, change of topic.
What does the first watch give us? Let´s watch it and analyze it.
It is indeed my second watch so it´s already compromised by the fact that I wanted to write a blog post about it. My judgment of the scene will be different than the first watch when it was fresh yesterday. I will try to summarize it before I re-watch it and analyze it here.
Thomas visited the Russians and made a deal with them. He would blow up a train and get paid in jewels. The Shelby brothers visit the Russian royal family at their mansion. They use this visit to explore the field and plan the robbery. During the visit, Tommy brings along his old enemy the jew Alfie Solomons who speaks Russian and is an expert on valuing and taxation of precious stones and high-end jewelry. Tommy has the blueprints of the mansion and they dig a tunnel under it. During the blowing up of the train, he has been able to steal the jewels.
Tommy has betrayed the Russians who were giving him no option. They kidnapped his son when Tommy decided not to follow their rules and because of this he got his wife killed, himself badly injured and his son nearly gone forever.
In this scene, Tommy just stole the jewels and got his son back in a heroic act of his brother Michael who cold blood murdered someone for the first time. Tommy meets Alfie to pay him for his services. Alfie, in gratitude, hands a list to Tommy of potential buyers for the Russian treasure, skipping one important name off the list, which is the richest family he could approach, the Russian family itself. Tommy analyzes the meaning of this and jumps into the conclusion that Alfie has been all along working with the Russians. This fact did not jeopardize the Shelby´s operation despite for the fact that Tommy´s son got kidnapped in the operation. When Tommy accuses Alfie of putting his son´s life in danger in the process, we clearly see that Alfie has no clue of what Tommy is talking about, but as the crime lord he is, he quickly comes back to his top criminal logic telling Tommy that is a fact that doesn’t change anything, given the criminalistic operations they both had led for years.
This is the inflection point. We as an audience are faced with two situations: the loss of a member of our family and the double morality that the leaders of criminal organizations have to deal with.
It is closer to us the possibility of losing a member of our family than confronting the moral dilemma in which we have been taking lives for a living and now someone attempts to take one of the members of our community´s life. Like most of us, I don´t personally know anybody in any organization that kills and gets killed. My only way of relating to the scene is with empathy towards Thomas Shelby for being the victim of a life threatening kidnap against his son. I can´t relate to the raw nature of the business he is into, the kind of decisions he has to make due to being the head of a family that controls the working class of Birmingham, Liverpool, London, … during the peak of the industrial revolution with a Second World War knocking at his doors. But Thomas Shelby is a historical figure. Cillian Murphy is just the characterization of that person. He is the type of leader who has taken the life of heads of households for years. He has left kids without their parents sometimes by his own hands, most of it by his command or as consequences of his decisions for “the best of his family business”. That is why Alfie comes with such high strong point of view to his business partner and at the same time enemy. He is telling him “don´t be a hypocrite and deal with the nature of what we do”. It´s hard for the audience to see it from Alfies´ point of view, but that is exactly why Tom Hardy´s choices of defending his point so strongly make an outstanding scene. His way of putting Tommy into place and Tommy´s reaction totally makes us snap out of the empathic feeling for Mr. Shelby, to understand the story from the facts and think more like them.
Great listening, great responding and amazing results. Brilliant scene!
Let´s watch it again. I will add the dialogue to analyze bit changes and each actor´s possible choices.
I realized from the start that this is a new deal. Now that the jewels are stolen, Tommy meets Alfie somewhere neutral to purchase information to sell the jewels. Alfie gives Tommy several lists with names. The last list contains the names of men who would buy those kind of jewels for their obsessive wives. Alfie leaves a name out the list. Give it some thought to discover who should have been on the list, I´m not going to spend time on that. However, that action reveals Tommy that Alfie has been playing a double game with him. Tommy realizes that Alfie told his enemies about his plans and he was not ahead of them all along. The only fact Alfie didn´t know was the kidnapping of his son. When Tommy tells Alfie, he is surprised about the news first but quickly coming back to his big picture criminal mind thinker, tries to reason with Tommy as he would expect from any crime lord who has been in business for a long time. The conflict of the scene starts here. Tommy´s most human side is under control. He is in great anger for his enemy taking lightly the consequences of his actions. Alfie knows that Tommy is someone who should be able to keep control of his emotions under the most extreme circumstances in the way the great villains in history have managed: Adolf Hitler, Al Capone, Pablo Escobar, … What makes Tommy a great Villain is that he is able to snap out of his emotional cascade of feelings, process the importance of the consequences of killing Alfie and take a quick decision, ultimately admitting that his enemy is right.
Tom Hardy´s job on keeping the cool of a crime lord and lecturing another crime leader like a father to his son, is simply brilliant. He is not a threat to Tommy at that moment since they just killed his bodyguard. He has the strongest argument, and he NEEDS the strongest argument to overtake an enraged man and his brother pointing at him with a gun. The brother is easy. He already knows how bad for business is if they kill Alfie. He also does not have the burden of almost losing his son even though it was him who killed the priest and rescued the child. Michael Shelby has done the clean part of the business for way longer than anybody else to know that is right and what is a disaster for their family. It all comes to the power of persuasion Alfie has to make Tommy reason. And he uses a simple rule “you´ve killed tons of people and killed those who came for revenge. What makes you different than the rest of us in this business when something bad happens to you?”. If it wasn´t for how strong Tom Hardy comes down on him, this scene wouldn´t have the effect that it has. So we can say that that one lecture was like a moral punch in the face to Tommy that will be in his mind for the rest of his life. We see the first result of this encounter at the very end of the episode when Tommy is cool while his whole family is arrested. He knows the bad they all have done, there´s no point of being sentimental, there´s only time for regrouping, re-planning, or whatever the writers want to make for the next season.
For the record, I got this script transcribed from this website which may not be 100% accurate but serves the purpose perfectly.