Peaky Blinders Season 6: How Death Haunts Tommy Through Set Design Details
“Outside the vardo was black, but we wanted to show Polly’s delicate gypsy side, so we painted roses on it.” Inside, portrait artist Rebecca Foster was given just four weeks to produce the beautiful character portrait of McCrory that was part of Polly’s possessions. “We had it repainted especially for Polly’s farewell. We also flooded her vardo with items, photographs of her from the first series to the end, and things like her silver pistol, lots of Polly’s clothes, boots that were special to her. Costume designer Alison McCosh told Northbridge which items were particularly important to Polly, including her boots and gloves, so they were added to the treasure collection. Although Northbridge points out that it was the character and not Helen who was being said goodbye in this scene, she recalls that the team’s first showing was an emotional experience. “There were a lot of people in tears, a lot of dried eyes. It was very powerful.”
Ruby’s Hidden Birds and a Secret Wink at Grace
The decorated vardo for Ruby Shelby’s funeral in episode four was filled with details not seen in the photo. His coffin “was supposed to be black with a bit of gold around the edges” to continue the season’s theme, says Northridge, “but that didn’t make it very kid-friendly and we wanted to pull the chord, so it was beautifully painted with gorgeous vines, each with a small animal and culminating with the white horse, which symbolizes Ruby.Inside Ruby’s vardo were teddy bears, toys, baby clothes, photos of family and decorative paper bird garlands.
Many other funerary elements were created for Arrow House but are not visible on screen. The art team made Ruby-specific gypsy wreaths with black feathers and white horses, to line the dining room in the after-funeral scenes. “It was almost a kind of Victoriana, when people used to photograph their dead children. The crowns were never really seen because when Tommy sat there destroyed, he fell into the dark in the background.
Another little-seen detail is in Ruby’s bedroom, where a toy theater has been designed to mirror Tommy’s office at the Shelby company. “We did the same big window in the background, then we cut out figures of Tommy and Polly and Lizzie, then the white horse again.”
A golden canopy hangs above Ruby’s bed, complete with a bespoke mobile containing stars, moons and – an Easter egg reference to another character – a swan. In season five, the swan became a symbol of Grace, Tommy’s first wife. “Ruby isn’t actually connected to Grace but it’s just such a beautiful pattern, you want to try and include it. So yeah, we had Grace in mind when we designed this little swan. The lush vegetation on Ruby’s wallpaper mural hid “little dead birds and tiny little bones,” says Northridge. “We used to say she was a delicate little bird and now she’s gone. We wanted to make it look like she was in the jungle and the undergrowth. The decomposition scenes in this wallpaper were very subtle and no one would have noticed them, but it was just enough to be unconsciously unsettling and for Anthony [Byrne, director] to know he was there.
For equally nuanced detail, see the wallpapers used in the Chinatown opium den, which contained dragon designs “for the idea of chasing the dragon”, and the hellish sight of “torn and gutted people and hot pokers stuck in to show almost the living hell Arthur was going through in his addiction. Another hellish reference came in Tommy’s episode 2 visit to Alfie Solomons. “We gave Alfie a floating pool of light because he’s always in and out of the dark and you never know if he’s real or in someone’s imagination. It was the descent into hell and Alfie was still the king of hell!