Saturday, 12 October 2013

What I've Learned from Cillian Murphy

Ok, not so much Cillian Murphy himself, more his character in Peaky Blinders, Thomas Shelby. Tommy is the leader of the gang – Birmingham, post WW1 – named because of the razor blades sewn into their peaked caps. The gang’s name says why. Grim. And they were a real gang. Didn’t have Cillian Murphy in though.

But back to him. Tommy leads the gang. He’s clever, he’s focused, he’s dangerous, he’s vicious, he’s not a very nice guy. So you could easily cast him as your bad guy. After all he does bad things. I mean, he just has to walk down the street and people run into their houses and hide! BUT he’s flawed (what would now be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and that is what makes him 3D, real, believable. That’s why you see past the violence, the coldness, the terror. That’s why you like him. You can understand him, see where the bloodiness comes from.  And, oh is he bloody! He can bash a man over the head in a vicious, frenzied attack, yet we feel sorry for him not horrified, because we can understand why he lost control in the first place.

All this gave me something of an epiphany as I work on my gangy novel. The story is about rival gangs. One is fairly benevolent, the other most definitely is not. But as I watch Cillian Murphy ride that horse along the streets of Birmingham (whilst wiping the drool from my face), I see how easy it is for lines to be crossed. It only takes the tiniest thing to turn a good person bad, and vice versa. And that’s what I need in my story. To make my characters real, to make my gangs convincing, to give the story depth and drama, I need to exploit not just the character’s strengths, but their weaknesses too. And that goes for the individuals as well as the gang ethos.

So it’s back to the notebooks (hurrah – chance to buy new ones). I am hugely excited by this, and I know my story is going to be so much better as a result of it. I knew watching Peaky Blinders was going to be useful!


  1. Have you seen the film, "Bronson"? I didn't watch it for ages because the trailer made it look bad but when I saw it, I was blown away. Bronson is actually very likeable, as he seems to be to anyone who doesn't annoy him. It is a study of a broken mind, someone who needs help and support but his condition makes it difficult to do that.
    The film is a strange little masterpiece of British surrealism and I can't imagine what the people who went to it expecting a Guy Ritchie-style gangster film - which is how it was trailed - made of it.
    Additionally, as someone who detests The Pet Shop Boys, it has the funniest use of one of their tracks ever!

  2. I haven't seen Bronson, but I'll look it up, especially as it's not a Guy Ritchie type film. I find studies of broken minds fascinating. And as for the Pet Shop Boys, I have to confess a sneaky fondness for their collaboration with Bowie on Hello Spaceboy!


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