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'Peaky Blinders' exclusive — Sophie Rundle on why the show has changed British TV

Sophie Rundle plays Ada Shelby in Peaky Blinders
'Ada's up to her old shenanigans' says Sophie Rundle. (Image credit: BBC)

From Bodyguard to Gentleman Jack, Sophie Rundle has starred in some massive dramas over the last few years, yet Peaky Blinders will always have a very special place in her heart. 

She has played Ada - sister of the gang's boss Tommy (Cillian Murphy) - since the show first arrived on our screens back in 2013 and she'll be back along with the rest of the Shelby clan when Peaky Blinders season 6 arrives on Sunday, Feb. 27.  

Already a mother to young Karl, Ada took a backseat in the family business during the last series and began a relationship with the intelligence officer, Ben Younger. She fell pregnant, yet was left all alone once again when Younger was killed, so what does the future hold? 

Sophie Rundle on what Ada is up to as the show returns...

"Ada is up to more of her old shenanigans. She's constantly trying to not be a Shelby, even though she couldn't be more of a Shelby, which has been her battle all the time that we’ve known her. Her story arc is that you can’t escape who you are and where you come from, but as I look back at her journey it’s clear she’s really grown up. 

"By the time we meet her in series six, she’s a woman, she has two kids, she's smart, she's independent, but she just can't help herself, but get drawn back into the Shelby dynamic, because they're her family and if they need her, she’s going to be there. She pretends she's not interested, like a little kid sister, but she's always looking over Tommy's shoulders, saying, 'What are you doing? What's that? Well, I wouldn't do it like that. Do it like this!'"

Did you enjoy filming 'Peaky Blinders' season 6?

"They were very nice to me, because I just had my baby when we came back and I was very pregnant ahead of filming. So they said, we're just going to send you your scenes so you can have a quick look before reading all the scripts. 

"There's a couple of things that Ada gets up to, which when I read them I went: 'Wow, that's so cool I never get to do stuff like that!' She's not the kind of girl to just sit back and wave a rose back and forth and let everyone else get involved. She's pretty cool Ada."

Ada and Tommy haven't always seen eye-to-eye in the past. Are they getting on better now? 

"There’s a reluctant understanding from both of them that perhaps they need each other more than they thought. Ada has purposefully driven herself out of the back streets of Birmingham because she wants to better herself and Tommy's suddenly aware that she could be quite a useful chess piece. 

"He’s often tried to dismiss Ada as an irritation, but she’s a real confidante for him and as he enters the world of global politics, someone as smart and loyal as Ada is a great asset. But at the end of the day, I think they both need each other and they both will always find their way back to each other."

Peaky Blinders

"Ada and Tommy need each other" says Sophie. (Image credit: BBC)

What do you think the show's legacy has been? 

"It's really rare that a show becomes embraced as part of the sort of national cultural mood, isn't it? I think it's a testament to how inherently iconic Peaky Blinders is. You know, everybody recognizes that iconic silhouette of the peaky flat cap and the waistcoat and it's changed the way a lot of men dress. 

"I think it's also done a lot to change the attitude towards British TV. It's such a classy cool show around the world, you can't dismiss British TV anymore because it's we make such good TV. It's a show about a family of gangsters in the back streets of Birmingham at the beginning of the 20th century, so for it to be loved on a global stage is magic. It's an amazing thing to have been a part of."

Do you enjoy chatting to 'Peaky Blinders' fans?  

"Generally if someone says, 'Where do I know you from?' I can tell what they're thinking of. It's either gonna be Gentlemen Jack or Peaky Blinders. But it's kind of different with Peaky Blinders because it's such a long-running show. People love it and they love asking questions about it, talking about their favorite bit, or what they're excited to see again. And that's a really nice thing. Our plumbers were in the other day and they were like, 'Can you tell us about Peaky Blinders?' It's so nice. And obviously, I can't because I will be fired!"

We've heard a 'Peaky Blinders' movie will be going into production next year? 

"Who knows what will happen with it. I've played Ada Shelby for 10 years and it's so rare that a part like that comes along. Someone who's just cool and bold and wild, so I feel very loyal to the show and it's got a really special place in my heart. So if it carried on in the right way, who knows? It would be a conversation, I think for everyone to have. Would we all do it? But I think there's a lot of love there for Peaky Blinders from the cast and that's quite an unusual thing. A lot of the time, you do your job and then you go home and you sort of put it to bed. But Ada has definitely got a really special place in my heart. I wouldn't be able to forget her very easily." 

Does this year's series feel like a fitting ending?

"This year's series feels like a very satisfying testament to the last 10 years. The show's writer, Steven Knight, knew it was going to be the last one and I think there's real power in that. He's very expertly drawn these characters and the storylines to this point. 

"It's an amazing thing to look back retrospectively and see where they started and where they came from and I think one of the reasons Peaky Blinders is so loved is that it never lets you down. It's never flabby. It's never a bit of a damp squib. It's always so cool. You can never quite believe what they're doing. The tension just keeps ramping up and this series is no exception to that."

Helen McCrory as Aunt Polly in Peaky Blinders

Fans were heartbroken when Helen McCrory passed away last year. (Image credit: BBC)

Everyone involved in the show must have been devastated to lose Helen McCrory, who played Aunt Polly for so many years...

"I think losing Helen was really devastating for everybody on screen and off. We've been doing this show for 10 years and she's part of the family in Peaky universe and she's part of our family. So it's inevitable that her loss is felt desperately keenly, I think by all of us and by our characters... She's a huge part of the show and she was never ever, ever forgotten. She and she can't be she's so much a part of the show. She was the heart of that show and she took Polly off the page and made her something completely more brilliant than I think Steve could ever have imagined. That was the magic of her."

What's your favourite Ada moment from down the years? 

"There's a scene in this final series that I can't talk about, that is possibly my favorite ever scene to film. Apart from that, it has to be her first scene, which was so iconic. She's in the cinema and Tommy comes in and takes her film off and she says, 'I'm Shelby too, put my fucking film back on!' It's still the best Ada moment. Anytime we had a conversation about Ada trying to pull away from the family, the thing I always held on to is that she's still that girl that sat in the cinema and screamed at the projector to put her fucking film back on."

"I was just such a kid when we started on the show, I was straight out of drama school and it was one of my first ever jobs. So I was so nervous during that scene because that was one of my audition scenes."

Peaky Blinders begins on Sunday, Feb. 27 on BBC1.

The series will be available to stream on Netflix in the US, but we don't know when it will arrive stateside just yet.

Sean Marland
Sean Marland

Sean has been writing about all things telly for over 10 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are The Great British Bake-Off, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.