“The Part of Me that Dreams is Gypsy”: Rural Space, Place and Performance in Peaky Blinders (BBC, 2013-Present)

Larke-Walsh, George S. (2018) “The Part of Me that Dreams is Gypsy”: Rural Space, Place and Performance in Peaky Blinders (BBC, 2013-Present). In: Literature Film Association Annual Conference, Nov 29 - Dec 1, 2018, New Orleans, LA, USA.

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Abstract

This paper will explore the presentation of space and place in the BBC TV series Peaky Blinders through its presentation of the Shelby family’s gypsy heritage and rural space. The intention is to explore the romance inherent in this characterization, how it suggests a yearning for a lost pre-industrial English identity and how that identity that remains steadfastly out of reach.

The Shelby’s violent and criminal class identity is forged within the industrial landscape of Small Heath, Birmingham, but their ethnic heritage includes a romanticized connection to the rural gypsy. Both identities are continually used in the series to promote their marginalized position in society. They are representatives of the working poor trapped in a hellish industrial environment, but they are also representative of an ancient community who exist on the borders of society, free to roam the intricate waterways and lanes of new and old England; an identity separate from modern society, but with a traceable and valuable bloodline. In reality, Romany are a distinct cultural group, but as a romantic concept the gypsy has long reflected an Englishness that yearns for “self-definition that returns to the countryside for its validation (Houghton-Walker, 2014: 37). The character of the gypsy appears in British literature, specifically of the Romantic period, as a figure that reflects the rural heart England, unconfined by industrialism, laws and domesticity. Consequently, the Shelby’s dual identity not only allows them to be working class heroes, but also connects them to a romanticized and pure national identity pre-modernity and seemingly untainted by multicultural influences. Throughout the series the gypsies, boatmen and tinkers are presented as extended family. When the Shelby family fights, they fight to preserve this romanticized heritage.

In his work on British social realist cinema, Andrew Higson (1996) reminds us “it is not just that the character is in the landscape, but that the landscape becomes part of the character” (144). It is specifically the contrast between urban industrial and rural idyllic landscapes that has dominated and connected space, place and performance across many aspects of British culture. Peaky Blinders is a stylized portrait of both landscapes in the early twentieth century where rural spaces have a contradictory role; they represent not only nostalgia for nationalism and the family’s journey to affluence but also all the weaknesses within those sentiments. Therefore, for the Blinders rural England is both a place of validation and of dread.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Media > Cinema and Film
Media > Film
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries > School of Media and Communications
Depositing User: George Larke-Walsh
Date Deposited: 28 Jan 2021 10:15
Last Modified: 28 Jan 2021 10:15
URI: http://sure.sunderland.ac.uk/id/eprint/13055

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