There’s no shortage of period dramas to be found on television these days. Between the set hair and full skirts of Showtime’s Masters of Sex and the surge in series that cater to anglophiles, including the popular Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge — which both will return to PBS’s “Masterpiece Classic” next year for new seasons — nostalgia has taken over the airwaves.
And, adding intrigue to history is BBC Two’s latest flashback, Peaky Blinders. A dark drama centred around the real-life gang behind the show’s name, Peaky Blinders is set in Birmingham, England after World War I with a plot that means to compete with critically acclaimed programs such as HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. And, as it has proven with its first season — which came to an end across the pond just this week — Peaky Blinders has proven it understands the sensational value of passion, politics and crime when intermingled.
There stirring the pot is Annabelle Wallis in the role of the duplicitous Grace Burgess, the beautiful spy that reveals herself to be the Achilles heel of smitten gang leader Tommy Shelby — played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy.
“Grace is the embodiment of a woman in all her complexities,” says Wallis of her character. “She is so many shades of grey [and in a] constant struggle with the light and the dark. She is brave and bold —unafraid. I liken her to feminists of the time like Emmeline Pankhurst, who paved the path for our generation. She is flawed…but you never lose faith in her. I think women will watch and find they see many sides of themselves in her.”
Known for her roles as Jane Seymour in The Tudors and films including W.E., the actress is quickly establishing herself as one of Britain’s hottest rising talents, and as so often follows, a style icon. Spotted in the front row admiring the spring/summer 2014 collections at London Fashion Week and chatting to fellow up and comers such as Samantha Barks (Les Misérables), Wallis is on the scene and dressed for the part.
Audiences can catch Wallis next in BBC America’s upcoming 2014 mini-series, Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond, alongside Dominic Cooper (My Week with Marilyn) and Lara Pulver (True Blood). Till then, find out what Wallis — fresh off the season finale of Peaky Blinders — has to say about the captivating charm of her Grace Burgess character and the role fashion plays in her own life.
Tell us a bit about Grace Burgess, she’s described as a mysterious figure. What makes Grace so enigmatic?
Grace is fascinating, she is a mystery.
In particular, what attracts Tommy to her?
Her fearlessness, strength and intellect. She is not easy. She is flawed, in her flaws he may see himself…unbeknown kindred spirits.
And what about Grace’s attraction to Tommy, what sparks that?
His mystery, he’s a challenge. There’s the fear of thinking you may have met your match.
Aside from the mystery drawing others in, would you say Grace has a touch of femme fatale charm?
I think the enigma of Grace makes her fatally attractive. She is fearless and headstrong. She holds her own at a time that was very challenging historically; it’s just after the 1st World War, there are rumblings of the separatist moment in Ireland (she’s Irish) and women are still considered second class citizens.
It was a tough time to be a woman.
[They were] unable to vote, and the jobs given to them in the war effort were given back to men upon their return to the UK from the war.
It seems like Grace’s life is a bit in limbo…
She is wholly out of place in the slums of Birmingham, but is unmoved by the poverty and hostility around her. Something profound has happened in this woman’s life, and she maintains her strength and equality amongst the male environment she finds herself in.
How was it working opposite Cillian Murphy? There’s a definite chemistry there.
Cill is so wonderful. Of course, I’d known him as an actor and loved his work. We first met in rehearsals where I had to put on an Irish accent. He’s bloody Irish! Do you know what that’s like…trying to pull of an Irish accent in front of a true Irishman!? Luckily I got away with it. We’re great friends outside work, we share the same love for music and terrible cheese jokes.
Do you have a soft spot at all for bad boy types like Tommy on the show?
Yes! Who doesn’t?
That’s true! The show’s creator Steven Knight is an incredible talent. Were you already a fan of his work before this series?
Steve writes so beautifully. I read the first episode and that was it. Your whole career is based on those moments. For me it was a defining one. [Peaky Blinders is a] beautiful script that portray[s] all the women as gutsy, intelligent, strong and equal. Those are the characters I want to play. It was like reading myself on the page.
I love the promotional pictures for the series. The style of that era’s hair and makeup is so beautifully feminine, are you a fan of your character’s hair and makeup look?
The costumes and hair and makeup were incredible. The defining thing about the Peaky Blinders is that they had this distinctive look. They lived in the slums, but were the sharpest of dressers always wearing their caps lined with razor blades. The boys had huge transformations. For myself we stripped it right back — Grace’s look evolves with time.
You’re no stranger to period dramas, both Tudors and Pan Am had you decked out in another generation’s style. Of all the periods that you’ve explored as an actress, style-wise, which is your favourite?
How can I choose!? I loved the opulence of the Tudor period…attention to detail — incredible. I love the sixties…the clothes of the time defined a turning point for women: the lipstick generation in full swing, the controversial mini skirt. I love that fashion mirrored sexual liberation and a real turning point for women’s liberation. And the ’20s, ’30s were incredible. The golden age of glamour. I want to bring that back. Everyone needs a bit of glamour!
Sounds like you like them all! How would you describe your own personal style?
I love fashion. I’ve grown to embrace it over the years. To really enjoy it. Have fun and take risks. I’d say [I have] an ever changing style.
What item in your closet would you never want to part with?
A haute couture gown passed down to me.
What item in your closet might have already overstayed its welcome?
Most of my spandex disco phase.
What look are you going for this fall season?
Oversized coats. long tight and sexy pencil skirts and a lot of PVC!! Jonathan Saunders collection is full of it and incredible.
Any particular trends your excited about?
PVC, animal prints, mixing clashing prints and textures.
What are some of your favourite brands, and who amongst these had the most interesting fall 2013 collection in your opinion?
I love the classics like Valentino and Chanel. Anything by Lanvin, Alaiia and Carven is making beautiful stuff. I love Cushnie Et Ochs dresses. Moschino’s winter collection is amazing.
So many designers!
Roksanda Ilinca, she has the most stunning dresses. Anything by Givenchy…Richard Ricci is an artist and Prada…Miuccia Prada is my fave.
You have an obvious love for fashion. Who is your style icon and what do you admire about their signature fashion look?
Miuccia Prada for her constant innovative fashion. She is a true purveyor of the arts in all its mediums. Grace Kelly for that classic iconic Hollywood glamour and for making a chignon or the “Hitchcock bun” so effortlessly chic.Published October 18, 2013