When most people think of Birmingham, their mind will jump to the city’s famous accent. It’s an accent that has long been the butt of jokes in British culture, but Peaky Blinders has shown audiences a different side to the Birmingham sound.
Straying from the stereotypical slow, monotonous drawl, Cillian Murphy and his co-stars inject more of a sense of urgency and grit into their interpretations of this often-misunderstood accent.
In the final video of our Discovering the Real Peaky Blinders series, historian Carl Chinn talks about how the series' actors researched their roles to present this new spin on the Brummie accent, asks how their performances hold up, and even joins the dots between the regional dialect and William Shakespeare.
If you’ve got a Brummie accent, the chances are you’ve been knocked for it. Too often, our accent is portrayed in a negative way as boring and monotonous. And this media influence, and popular versions of the Brummie accent, has meant the television companies have shied away from using our city as a location. Thankfully, that attitude has been changed positively and powerfully by the series, Peaky Blinders.
However, some of the actors have been criticised because it’s felt that their accents sound more like Liverpudlian than Brummie. Cillian Murphy, who plays Tommy Shelby, did make a big effort to get an ear for the real Birmingham sound. And he spent an afternoon at The Garrison pub by the Birmingham City ground talking with, and listening to, proper Brummies. Too many people, when taking on the Birmingham accent, speak slowly. We don’t speak slowly; it’s a city accent, we speak fast. And Cillian Murphy has got that spot-on, and through doing so, he’s shown that Brummies and Brummie accent can be spoken by sharp, witty, quick and alert people. But it must be remembered that in the 1920s, the Birmingham accent was stronger, and because there was little immigration in that period of Birmingham, then its accent was embedded within its rural hinterland. So, many dialect words were also spoken, such as “blarting” for “crying”, “miskin” for the dustbin, and “suff” for the drain. Birmingham was in Warwickshire; and, of course, the greatest writer in the history of English language, Shakespeare, was also from Warwickshire. Now we wouldn’t say that Shakespeare spoke like a Brummie, but his mother’s family, the Ardens, came from near to Birmingham. And in his plays, he used dialect words like “brewess” and “the suff”.
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