I haven’t yet watched all of Peaky Blinders Season 3 and thus I haven’t viewed the key funeral of that series. Still, building on my previous commentaries on the funerals and cemeteries in Seasons 1 and 2, and having just watched the entirety of Season 4, I want to comment on the cremations it portrays.
Without giving the plot away, there are 2 striking and prominent Gypsy funerals in the series: both involve the burning of the deceased within a wagon on open ground outside of settlements, and presumably illegally. In neither case are the wagons actually the deceaseds’ abode in life. Instead, the choice of cremation in a wagon is a somewhat contrived assertion of traditional values and identity in the face of external conflict by those of ‘Gypsy blood’ who have adopted more conventional dwellings, if not lifestyles.
In the first case, we see the careful arrangement of the dead body within the wagon, surrounded by personal effects including medals and military uniform. In both cases, wood is stacked under and around the wagon, and petrol strewn upon it to accelerate the fire. Mourners in turn add offerings to the outside of the wagon to articulate their loss and respect for the deceased. Then, the mourners stand back to one side in a line, watching in solemn silence the burning of the wagon.
In the second funeral, we see an earlier stage: the procession of the wagon through the streets on its way to the place of burning. Thus, we get a sense of how the funeral was not only prominent through public open-air cremation, but in marking out the public respect for the deceased among the wide, large non-Gypsy, community. People add offerings to the wagon as it makes its way through the streets of Birmingham.
Again, a standard trope of TV cremation: we never see the post-cremation sifting of the pyre and treatment of the cremains: the wagons just burn whilst mourners watch on, as if this is the end of the funerary proceedings. I’ve repeatedly talked about how this conjures a misrepresentation of prehistoric and historic cremation practices.
I don’t feel equipped to comment on the precise accuracy of the funerals as portrayed. Still, as a prominent example of cremation practiced by a minority group in the early 20th century, Peaky Blinders has done a service in portraying how funerals involving cremation could not simply articulate identities of, and dialogues between, the dead and mourners, but serve as public fiery performances of social and cultural distinction, constituting ties to past and place among itinerant communities and their difference from others.