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Saturday 17 November 2018

Wexford actress Charlie Murphy to star in Peaky Blinders

The real Jessie Eden, circa 1926.
The real Jessie Eden, circa 1926.
Wexford's Charlie Murphy as Jessie Eden in Peaky Blinders.

By Esther Hayden

Wexford actress Charlie Murphy will take on the role of trade union activist Jessie Eden in the new series of Peaky Blinders which starts on Wednesday, November 15, on BBC2.

Charlie who is the daughter of Pat and Brenda Murphy who owned and ran the popular Scissors Empire hair salon on Wexford's South Main Street before it became part of Lloyd's Hair Salon in late 2015 is perhaps best known to Irish audiences for her role as Siobhan in Love/Hate. Charlie (29) said she hadn't seen the show before she was cast.

'It was on the list, everyone has a list: 'I have to watch that, I have to watch that', she said.

However she soon remedied that saying: 'I watched the first few episodes and then I was just hooked'.

In the fourth series of the hit BBC gangster drama Peaky Blinders Charlie takes on the role of passionate Communist trade union activist Jessie Eden who made history in the 1920s.

Eden made headlines in 1926 when she convinced her all-female section of workers at the Joseph Lucas motor components factory in Birmingham to down tools as part of the general strike, before going on to lead 10,000 women out on a week's strike in 1931, a show of power that was almost unprecedented in its time.

'I'm always interested in those people you see flashing by at the corner of your eye,' said the show's creator Steven Knight. 'So much of history concentrates on the memoirs of some politician or other but then in the middle of all that grey there's a flash of colour and that's Jessie - being female and working class there was very little prospect that she would become a household name but she did extraordinary things.'

Peaky Blinders first mentioned Eden last series when Helen McCrory's outspoken Aunt Pol and the rest of the Shelby women downed tools and headed out to hear the firebrand speak at Birmingham's Bull Ring. This series, however, she will play a more central role as her desire for better conditions for her workers puts her on a collision course with enigmatic anti-hero Tommy Shelby played by Cillian Murphy.

'It's always been my intention to tackle the 1926 general strike as it was a time when the possibility of a genuine revolution was in the air,' said Knight. 'Birmingham has always been a very radical, very unionised, very left-wing city so it was important for us to have someone on the show who represents that.'

Even the briefest glimpses of Eden in history paints a tantalising picture of a determined working-class woman whose pragmatic, honest and articulate voice speaks vibrantly across the years.

Her daughter-in-law Andrea McCulloch describes her as 'very strong, committed in her beliefs. She was sort of person you might underestimate because she was small and vulnerable-looking but then - bang. You didn't want to underestimate her. By the time I knew her she was a sweet old lady but I was told she could tear you off a strip if you did something she didn't approve of.'

Charlie Murphy said that Eden's voice feels as relevant now as it was then. 'One of the things I find most fascinating is where she drew that strength from. She's an extraordinary woman, very brave, very passionate and she really put her neck on the line, not just for women but for everyone.'

After leading 10,000 women out on strike in 1931 in a dispute over attempts to link workers' pay to performance speed Eden found herself singled out at work and eventually lost her job.

Charlie admitted she was nervous tackling the Birmingham accent.'At the audition I'd never tackled the Brummie accent before. It's such a brilliant accent but very daunting to approach.'

She said she hopes that her portrayal of Eden helps to show the role she had in history.

'Jessie was so intriguing and such a powerful person at that time, you delve online and you try and find as much as you can when you're researching but there's very little there so hopefully this will cast a light on er.

'To the very end her one true love seems to have been justice, fairness and equality. She comes across as a very inspirational person to be around and I'm sure that rubbed off on so many people.'

The Wexford actress said she had been nervous joining the heavyweight cast which also features Tom Hardy, Aiden Gillen and Adrien Brody.

'It was scary, exciting, you kind of get used to the first day of school every few months, but here you are not starting with everyone and the dynamic is set.

'It seems like a beast of a show from the outside and it's stunning. It was a bit nerve-racking starting and the anticipation was more than anything. I was fine when I got there.'

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