After five seasons on Peaky Blinders, Sophie Rundle’s Ada has finally settled into her role in the family and accepted that she’s a Shelby. Now in the final season of the TV series, she finds peace by watching over Arthur and Finn, while Tommy is away.
Or does she? Ada’s had a long journey here, chronically undecided about how much or how little she wants to do with the Shelby business, and Tommy’s disputes with, well, just about everyone. Yes, she’s the doting older sister, but she’s always aspired for more than just running the house while the men are gone, and in season 6 we might see her break away to truly find herself.
Rundle sat down with The Digital Fix to talk about all of it: her time growing with the show, the comfort in understanding this was the last season, and how Ada is reflected in her wardrobe and sense of decoration. The world of Peaky Blinders is shifting in a major way, as is the world that produced it, and behind all of it are strong women, just like Ada.
The Digital Fix: When you started Peaky Blinders, did you have any idea you’d be sitting here chatting about the final season?
Sophie Rundle: No, but I’ve said this before, I mean, I didn’t have a clue what was going on. When I started Peaky Blinders, I was fresh out of drama school. Looking back now, I realise that it had this energy to it. Everybody was really excited when we came to work every day, because what we were shooting was so cool and unusual.
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But I didn’t know that that was any different, I was just so excited to have a job. I kind of assumed that it would always be there. I had no idea that it wasn’t always this way, and that in ten years’ time, I’d be sat here talking about this amazing show, this incredible thing that we’ve created. What a lovely thing to sit, and just take a moment to sort of acknowledge that, for sure.
Season 6 opens with this incredible procession that creates this real sense of finality. What was the atmosphere like on set, since you knew this huge story was ending?
Yeah, well, it was interesting, because we did know, and I think often, in TV, you don’t know if you’re going to get another season. So you make it in the hope that you might get another one. But what’s so lovely about Peaky Blinders, which has always been so lovely, is that you start filming, you get six scripts on your table, and that’s it. So you know what the story is, you’re not waiting for the next episode as you’re shooting.
That’s what I think gives the world of Peaky Blinders such credibility and authenticity, because everybody knows what’s happening, where they’re going, what’s coming. We did know that this was going to be the final season, and I think that was really helpful. I think that was really good because we were all shooting it with that certainty. So I think you really feel it through the series, you really feel we’re doing justice to the story we’ve been telling for ten years.
There’s a time-jump right after, and Ada has settled into this caring role within the Shelby family. Do you think she was frustrated by that, or do you think she’s just accepted the position?
I like that word, frustrated, because yeah, I’ve never thought about that, but I think there is a sort of weariness. She’s still trying to fucking wrangle these mental brothers of hers, but I think that’s probably always going to be the way, and there’s a resigned acceptance of that. I think that it’s just born out of necessity that she thought she has to fill the shoes, that there is this huge gap, this empty chasm where Polly was, and she was the matriarch, and without that they’re all spinning off.
I think Ada, as much as she has issues with her family, at the end of the day they’re her family, so she has to bring them back. It’s born out of necessity, isn’t it? No one else is going to do it, and she can do it, so she does. The series is the culmination of six seasons of her grappling with ‘Am I a Shelby, am I not a Shelby, do I want to be a part of this world do I not?’, and accepting that you can’t run from who you are. Maybe this mad family that she comes from is an asset to her, maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it’s a good part of her personality. So there’s all of that going on for Ada for sure.
I sometimes find Peaky Blinders difficult to watch because I’m tempted to pause and look at the sets and costumes. What are some of your favourites from through the seasons?
I remember really, really early on, I think it must have been like season 2 or season 3, some of the art department came up to me and said, ‘Well, how do you want Ada’s rooms to look? What do you want her house to look, is there anything you want there?’, and that was such a lovely thing. I said I just really want it to look good. I’m not taking any credit they did it, but I just said I really want it to look like someone who’s interested in things bigger than her, and as far away from Birmingham as possible.
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They created this amazing world with all this art on the walls, and these antiques, and that fed into the story that she’s interested in that, she knows about that, she’s elevated herself. That’s always a real pleasure when you get a glimpse into Ada’s world, and the delicacy of it in comparison to the roughness of the boy’s world, the vibe to the worlds that they occupy.
Then just as she’s accepted more and more that she is a Shelby, it’s something I’m very careful of as a woman to talk loads about your costumes, because I think it’s very stereotypical to talk about, but I think they’re really relevant in the show, because it’s it’s done with purpose. You’re telling the story through what you’re wearing, and it says so much about Ada, and she really embraces it when she’s embracing who she is.
She does that with clothes, and she just looks powerful. She looks affluent. She looks like somebody, and I really like that. So I love when they just fully embrace who she is. She goes all out and wears these fabulous coats and these fabulous prints, and she’s really fashion-forward and progressive, so it’s always a real pleasure.
In this season, Tommy is off to Boston, leaving yourself and Natasha O’Keefe’s characters. What was it like working with her on your scenes together?
Yeah, massively, I cannot say enough good things about Natasha O’Keefe. She’s just so much fun to be around on-set, always has been since we first met on that show. She’s an extraordinary actor actually, so it’s just such a joy whenever you get a scene like that because you know you’re going to have a really nice day on set.
It’s such a joy because really seeing the dynamic of those two, Lizzie and Ada, because as you say, they’re just fucking left to steer the ship because they’re women, you know. I love seeing those particular women in that position, because they’re not the typical ideal of women at that time, and I think they’re just as badass as the rest of the boys.
It is the time that they have to occupy as the women at home, but they’re just steely, and it’s always the women that are the toughest ones. Definitely the scariest ones, and I love that, and how much fun to see the inner workings of the domestic side of the Shelbies! It’s great fun to do.
There’s been a lot of discussion around the BBC, and its role in modern television and such. Do you think Peaky Blinders would’ve been possible without that broadcasting body?
I think Peaky Blinders is its own beast. It’s really fascinating when you look at the evolution of how we watch TV and the birth of streaming platforms. Peaky Blinders occupies a really specific place in that because it was a sleeper hit, definitely, and it came up on BBC Two, and I think people that watched it, liked it more than the critics perhaps first, and then it gained this cult following. It was when it was taken on Netflix that it reached this huge audience and that allowed it to gain the international momentum that it did.
It occupies a really strange place because it’s a BBC show, and it’s one of the jewels in the BBC crown, I think at the moment, but wouldn’t have the international reach without being on this streaming platform. So it occupies both camps, you know what I mean? It’s a tricky one. I mean, I probably am not the person to say the most interesting thing about this political sphere of British television but it’s so heartily British.
It’s a show that I think Brits are really proud of and it’s got this incredible international appeal that you would never expect. You get people that love it all over the world that probably wouldn’t watch it if it was just on the BBC. It’s a very complex thing, isn’t it, how we consume and how we share television. If it had just gone on to one of the streaming platforms, would it have just got lost? It’s complicated.
Peaky Blinders season 6 premieres February 27 on BBC One.