In the night, when everything becomes quiet, Tommy lights something up and takes a drag. Almost instantly, he is in a daze and falls on his bed. His mind goes back to the war, where he was in a tunnel with Danny and Freddie. He hears Danny scream, and as they get louder, he wakes up with a jolt.
Thomas Shelby had returned home to Birmingham after the First World War. His family was in the bookmaking business. He is a man of few words and tries to go about his business without revealing what goes on inside his mind.
Now, these might be character traits to portray Thomas as this enigmatic character. But, when you see him smoke before bed and dream of war, you know it’s more than that.
Not only do we see Tommy smoke most of the time, but also drink whiskey almost all the time, especially when he is out at the local pub to see Grace in season 1 and also subsequently.
Almost all of his other traits point towards someone who has PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). So I wondered why he smoked right before bed and what it was, because it sure didn’t look like cigarettes.
Thomas Shelby, aka Tommy, smokes brown opium at night in Seasons 1 and 2 to minimize the stress and symptoms of his PTSD from World War I. His symptoms and the habit of smoking opium get better when he marries Grace in Season 3 but worsen after Grace’s death.
When I understood this, I looked closely at his behavior and saw how deeply rooted his condition was. Here are a few of his traits that point towards the condition:
1. Reliving the War Memory
Throughout the first season, we see Thomas relive the war memory on several occasions. Each time he wakes up from his sleep, his face is covered with sweat, and he almost gasps for air. This shows he also has anxiety, which is one of PTSD’s symptoms.
I. Trust Issues
Now, we all know about Tommy very well. Thomas doesn’t trust anyone. It takes a lot for him to tell his thoughts and strategies to someone, and many times, he keeps them all to himself.
II. The Numbness
Even if something terrible is happening in front of him, we mostly see little to no expression on his face. His cold grey eyes don’t say much, either. It’s almost like things just don’t seem to affect him, or even if they do, he is resigned to them.
III. Already Broken
This one just says it all. In an episode in Season 1, Grace and Tommy are alone in the pub. Tommy asks her to sing for him. She asks him if he wants to listen to a happy or a sad song, and Tommy chooses sad
When she warns him that the song will break his heart, he says, “Already broken!” Though one might think that this is for dramatic effect, it’s all feels. Because the war took a part of his soul and what came back was the devil.
All these signs are symptoms of his PTSD, and they come back to him during the night. This is simply because people surround him during the day, and his mind is on the work that needs to be done.
But in the night, when there’s nothing to distract him, his demons come crawling back to him. And that’s precisely why he smokes brown opium in a clay pipe. To subside the effects of his PTSD.
2. Does Arthur Shelby Have PTSD as Well?
Yes, he does! PTSD manifests in different people in different ways. For Arthur, it’s the opposite of Tommy. He finds himself angry most of the time and is also someone who is easily rattled. We also see him lose control of himself sometimes.
One such scene is when he is in an underground fight, and somehow he loses control of his anger and beats a young kid to death in the boxing ring.
These are all symptoms of his PTSD.
3. Can Thomas Shelby Ever Be Okay Again?
If you haven’t seen the remaining seasons, spoilers wait for you!
If you HAVE seen all the five seasons, you’ll know that Thomas Shelby begins to stabilize a little bit because of Grace. She gives him hope, she brings him peace, and brings him closer to happiness.
But after she dies, Tommy starts to spiral again. In the final season, he seems to have more trouble sleeping than ever, and he sees hallucinations of her. It’s almost like he is approaching his end.
4. Why Is Everyone Smoking in Peaky Blinders All the Time?! What Are They Smoking?
During the 20th century, the culture was such that people would smoke, consume alcohol, and even do drugs very casually and openly. In fact, people could just go to any chemist and buy cocaine and opium. So, smoking cigarettes wasn’t a big deal to the people back then.
In the 20th century, smoking or drinking publicly was considered to be normal, let alone questionable. This is one of the main reasons why members of the Peaky Blinders are always seen smoking or sipping.
England is also known for its cold climate like most European countries. So drinking alcohol is not always purely for entertainment purposes but also for keeping oneself warm. With gangs such as the Peaky Blinders, whiskey and cigars were part and parcel of daily life.
Hence, we mostly see the Shelbys either smoking, sipping on Irish Whiskey, or both.
Fun fact: Late Helen McCrory, who plays aunt Polly in the show, revealed in an interview with The Mirror that they don’t smoke actual cigarettes but fake herbal ones.
5. What Whiskey is Everyone Drinking in Peaky Blinders?
Whiskey is good proofing water. It tells you who’s real and who isn’t.Tommy Shelby
Now that we have resolved what is it that the Shelbys are smoking all the time, let’s get on to some booze talk.
If cigarettes are like oxygen to the Shelbys, whiskey is like water. The members of the Peaky Blinders cannot do without either. If you watch a random episode of Peaky Blinders, Tommy Shelby (and everyone else) is always either smoking or drinking or doing both! So what is this magic potion that the Shelbys can’t get enough of?
The Shelbys are usually drinking Irish whiskey from a brand called Gallglenies. Though the band does not exist in reality, Irish whiskey is a really popular drink in England. A whole line of spirits have been inspired by the series has been introduced in the market.
Fun fact: The original gang reportedly also loved Irish whiskey.
6. Is the Peaky Blinders’ Whiskey Available in Real Life?
Though the brand featured on the show is not real, the Shelby family’s whiskey obsession has inspired a whole range of alcohol in the market today. You and I aren’t the only ones who are on the lookout for Tommy Shelby’s favorite drink. The BBC drama inspired spirit range includes whiskey, gin and rum.
Sadler’s, a Black Country Brewery, initially founded in 1900, has introduced this unique line of spirits inspired by the hit BCC British crime drama. The spirits in this line are prepared while keeping in mind the flavors that were popular in 1920 England, roughly when the original Peaky Blinders lived and functioned.
The line has three spirits: the Peaky Blinder Whiskey, the Peaky Blinder Spiced Dry Gin, and the Peaky Blinder Black Spiced Rum. Each kind has its own distinct flavor and aroma, designed to take you back to the 1920s. Each of the spirits is created keeping in mind the time and the aromas that were popular back then in England.
Sadler’s reportedly also supplied twelve tied public houses in the early 20th century in England, frequented by the original Peaky Blinders members. If you ask me, the whole idea is really thrilling.
7. About Peaky Blinders
Peaky Blinders is a British period crime drama television series created by Steven Knight. Set in Birmingham, England, the series follows the exploits of the Shelby crime family and their leader Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) in the direct aftermath of the First World War.
The fictional family is loosely based on a real urban youth gang of the same name, active in the city from the 1890s to the early 20th century. It stars Cillian Murphy, Sam Claflin, Aidan Gillen, Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson, Finn Cole, and Tom Hardy
Peaky Blinders season 6, which is also its last, will premiere on February 27 on BBC One.