Peaky Blinders Series 6: Neil Maskell on Portraying Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill is one of the UK's most iconic & revered historical figures. As most are aware, his heroic exploits during World War II included rallying the country against the Nazis with his famous "Darkest Hour" speech. BBC's Peaky Blinders focuses on a time during Churchill's younger years and his interactions with Tommy Shelby (played by Cillian Murphy, who fronts the epic gangster family crime drama. While promoting his action film Bull for Saban Films, I spoke with star Neil Maskell about playing the famed British-American statesman and the would-be Prime Minister.

Peaky Blinders: Neil Maskell on Capturing Winston Churchill's Essence
Neil Maskell in Peaky Blinders. Image courtesy of BBC / Netflix

Maskell's Churchill was introduced in series five, appearing twice, and appearing four times overall in the sixth and final series. The role was previously played by Andy Nyman in series one and Richard McCabe in series two. "You've got to research it like you're in a program called 'Churchill,'" he said. "You got to turn up with your bag packed in that respect. So I read the two most recent biographies of Churchill, the Andrew Mitchell one and the Martin Gilbert one. Luckily, I only had to go up to the mid-30s (age). So it was only sort of halfway through for each of those books, but still a couple of thousand pages of biography and then just watching as much as I possibly could have speeches and stuff."

The actor was cognizant of his own physical differences from Churchill. "I didn't want to attempt an impersonation and it would have felt slightly ridiculous, really," Maskell said. "My voice is about an octave lower than Churchill's. So I didn't want to kind of worry about pitching my voice up and stop and just concentrate on the slight impediments in his voice. It came with it the concern of very easily becoming a caricature, because he had a very pronounced physicality. So just finding a medium there, really, and then making sure that tonally it was consistent with the rest of the show with 'Peaky Blinders,' which is a very theatrical show. The scenes between me and Cillian had an almost a flirtation, really, and a flirtatious theatricality that meant we enjoyed it. We had a bit of fun in almost making that relationship quite an amorous one. Not the Cillian's leaning too far in that, but I could and it was I had a bull on it, actually, but it was a hell of a lot of work for what ended up only being a few days filming with."

The final series of Peaky Blinders, which also stars Paul Anderson, Sophie Rundle, Ned Dennehy, Anya Taylor-Joy  and Benjamin Zephaniah premieres on June 10th on Netflix. Bull is currently in theaters and on-demand and digital on April 5th.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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