When we first hear what a certain show is about, we definitely make some assumptions. So, here we have Birmingham at the beginning of the 20th century, four brothers, criminal activities, gangsters, retaliations and bad blood. Do we imagine women in the midst of it all? Not really, at least not as main characters. And then we end up surprised, very surprised. Peaky Blinders is a show full of testosterones, shooting and fighting. And men who think they know it all.
But behind them there are so many strong, stubborn and unforgettable female characters that they need to be talked about. It was also a time of numerous women’s movements and attempts to gain equal rights, at least a better position in a society governed by men. These are Peaky Blinders female characters ranked by importance.
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Polly Gray/ Shelby
A wealthy widower, a skilled horse trainer and a lonely woman who enjoys Tommy’s company, maybe a bit more than allowed. She is constantly somewhere around him and pretty bold in showing her affection to him. She is a woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Nevertheless we feel sympathy for her since it is obvious that she’s only someone to comfort Tommy when he feels low and in one of his maniacal episodes.
She represents something that all of them sought for their whole lives, wealth and power through money. And being that, she is also a threat to some of them, since they are aware of all the possibilities and influence she has on those above them.
The questions of women’s movement and fights for women rights is very obvious throughout the whole show. It is in fact the time when women started to get more acknowledged and struggled for their place in society. They wanted to be heard, appreciated, be summoned to men’s meetings and be given better working positions. This topic is very often included in the episode and there is a character based on a real life person of that time.
Jessie Eden leads the all-women factory workers and is someone who often challenges Tommy and wants him to use his name and influence to help their cause. Although we don’t see her very often, when we do, we know it will be related to blackmailing Tommy for greater good. Jessie is determined, brave and isn’t afraid for her own safety, as long as she is being heard and taken into account.
Although not one the main female characters and not so often on screen, Esme Shelby is such a memorable character. Married to Tommy’s younger brother John, she is always somewhere around all of them. We never forget to mention her since her role here is also pretty important. She is the one who isn’t afraid to show her dislike towards Tommy and Arthur when she realises what they are capable of. She loves her husband and wants to have a normal, family life with him.
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They even move to the country with their children and try to distance themselves from the aggressiveness and dangers of a great city. Esme might seem shy and simple at times, but every now and then she shows her true self and we learn that there is one more strong character in the show, juxtaposed to the power and domination of this gangster clan that surrounds her.
Gina Gray is definitely one of the least loveable characters in the whole show. Although we met her fairly late, she managed to get on our nerves so many times that we stopped counting. There is something we don’t like about her from the very first time we see her. She is another strong female character, as most of them are. She is independent and obviously intelligent, but we mostly see her bad sides. She takes advantage of Michael, Tommy’s nephew, who she marries after their brief relationship in the USA.
From the beginning she shows her disrespect to the family and encourages Michael to work independently from the Shelby’s. She is full of herself, arrogant and snobbish and isn’t afraid to show her dislike towards everyone around Michael. She even makes him share all the business plans and secrets and makes him ask for her approval.
Anya Taylor-Joy is an actress which we will be hearing from in the future a lot. She is constantly showing her talent and completely changes herself for every role she plays. She is the perfect Gina, with her unusual looks and somewhat cold and reserved appearance.
One of the most interesting and most disturbing characters in the show. We get to know Linda as a good Christian girl who obeys others and is afraid to speak her mind. But at the end of season 5 this is not the Linda we used to know. Addicted to heroin, now Arthur’s ex wife who wanted to kill him after all the problems he put her into. It wasn’t easy for her always being in Arthur’s shadow, behaving well, not being allowed to say what’s on her mind. Her transition is transparent.
From a believer who wanted to make Arthur a good family man, to a desperate wife who doesn’t see a way out. We witness many of her outbursts, very often get irritated by her actions and decisions, but at the same time we should try and understand her. Brilliantly portrayed by Kate Philips, Linda is a character you probably won’t like, but will definitely feel sorry for her and be relieved for her when she finally finishes with the Shelby’s.
Tommy’s second wife, but present from the very beginning of the show. She was working as a prostitute, but intended to merry Tommy’s brother John which Tommy didn’t approve of. Later it was revealed that he was her regular customer, but had different plans for her, making him his secretary.
That’s when she started to get infiltrated in all of their business. She never hid her passion for Tommy and it was only a matter of time when she would get nearer to him. Ada is an interesting character, a girl who had to work hard to leave her past behind.
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It was never easy for her, being always here, but never appreciated enough, always almost invisible. We really see her growth throughout the seasons and realise that she was always someone who will be very important for the Shelby family. Natasha O’Keeffe was an excellent choice for the portrayal of Lizzie. Tall, slender and very graceful, very often cool and distant, she brings out Lizzie’s best and worst qualities brilliantly.
The only sister in the Shelby family, the one which differs completely from her brothers. With different views and beliefs, she tries to stay away from the activities their brothers constantly deal with. Stubborn and brave, Ada is often not aware of what is going around her, believing that she might change not only her family, but also the point of view of others around her.
She is a communist and at the beginning not a member of Peaky Blinders, mostly due to her views. After the death of her beloved Freddie Thorne, a known communist, she is left alone with their baby and faced with a life of uncertainty and insecurities.
She doesn’t want to have anything to do with Tommy and Peaky Blinders so she moves to London and decides to stay away from them. But Tommy pays her a visit and slowly she starts changing her mind and decides to work for her brother. Nevertheless, she is still not coming to Birmingham and accepts the position in the USA where she becomes the leader of their finances. After that she is getting more and more involved in the business and finally a part of Peaky Blinders, too.
Sensitive, fair and fragile blonde haired beauty, Grace Shelby (nee Burgess) is one more strong and independent female character in the show. Along with aunt Polly, the most important. Hired as a bartender in Tommy’s bar, but secretly a spy for inspector Campbell, Grace’s role is to investigate how the Shelby brothers operate and how deep into criminal activities they are. Little did they know that her engagement will end up in so much more than a simple job task. She is responsible for some of the biggest turmoil in the show.
She finds herself between two infatuated men who are ready to give up almost everything for her. She is Tommy Shelby’s safe haven, the only weak spot in his otherwise stone cold personality. She shows us how women can disrupt men’s plans, how they can completely change their mindset and even leave all things behind.
She is the femme fatale of the show, with her grace and irresistibility on one side and smarts and resourcefulness on the other. Don’t let her fool you with her angelic looks and shy appearance. She knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to obtain it.
Polly Gray/ Shelby
Aunt Polly, the pillar, the strongest link inside the family. A loving woman who lives and breathes for her nephews. At first she might seem somewhat cold and reserved, with her upward stature, piercing eyes and a smirk. But behind that facade, there is an emotional, warmhearted woman who tries to survive among the cruelty of the outside world.
She needs to put her nephews in place and try to guide them through all the insecurities and dangers of the situations they will find themselves in. Always present, alert and never carefree, she is a lonely wolf who also hides a secret of her own. After everyone finds out, her emotional barrier slowly starts to fade. She becomes more vulnerable or at least starts showing it.
It is never easy being a woman in a man’s world, especially the kind of world Peaky Blinders introduces us to. That’s why it’s even more satisfying seeing such a wonderful female character as Polly Gray.
Perfectly played by the beautiful, talented and unfortunately late Helen McCrory, this character should be on the list of the most memorable female characters in shows ever. We will never forget her wise words, the disdain she starts to feel towards the brothers’ ideas, the irony and cynicism that follows everything she does.
On the other side, she will be quoted and remembered as a loving mother and aunt and a great fighter for women’s rights, always one of the loudest among them. She will be greatly missed in the sixth season.
Tamara Stiglic Vodopic
Tamara Stiglic Vodopic is a content writer based in Rijeka, Croatia. She has a Master's degree in English and German Language Teaching and Literature from the Philosophical Faculty in Rijeka. Tamara's expertise includes directors that often deal with fantasy, science fiction, and...