The Real-Life Inspiration Behind This Peaky Blinders Character Wasn't As Obvious As The Show's Creator Assumed

In the sixth and final season of "Peaky Blinders," Boston gang leader Jack Nelson is spoken of before he's ever seen. It's not until the end of the second episode that he shows up onscreen inside a cathedral, where series protagonist Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) goes to meet him. James Frecheville, known for his role in the 2010 Australian crime drama "Animal Kingdom," turns around and says in a Boston accent, "Mr. Shelby," finally giving the elusive "Uncle Jack" a face, though the actor playing him is only five years older than the one playing his supposed niece, Gina Gray (Ana Taylor-Joy).

As we learn more about Nelson in "Peaky Blinders," it soon becomes clear that he has some things in common with a real-life historical figure: namely, Joseph Kennedy, Sr., the father of President John F. Kennedy and his brothers and fellow politicians Bobby Kennedy and Ted Kennedy. As Den of Geek notes, Nelson, like Kennedy (who was similarly an Irish-Catholic Bostonian), travels to England by ship with his wife, mistress, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's son. There, he buys up import licenses for whiskey as Prohibition is ending, just as Kennedy did. Nelson is also shown to be a Nazi sympathizer, as was Kennedy, who favored the policy of appeasement and was known to have anti-semitic tendencies.

Despite these similarities, "Peaky Blinders" creator Steven Knight was surprised in February 2022 when an interviewer for Deadline asked if Jack Nelson was meant to be a thinly disguised version of Joseph Kennedy. He said:

"How do you do this, how do you work these things out? You're the first person and only person who's worked that out. I thought people would clock it because there's plenty of hints there. No one spotted it. All I'm doing is confirming the question."

'You take real facts and fictionalize them'

One of the fascists that Nelson is in cahoots with, Oswald Mosely (Sam Claflin), is also based on a real-life British parliament member of the same name, so "Peaky Blinders" season 6 already mixes fact with fiction in other places. However, Mosely is a man that the show likens to the devil. Among other things, he can be heard spouting the phrase "Perish Judah," meaning, "death to the Jews." It might surprise some viewers to see a character inspired by a Kennedy associating with someone so evil, just as it might surprise them to learn that, in reality, the patriarch of this American political dynasty, the Kennedy family, publicly embraced the idea during World War II that democracy was "finished" in England, maybe also America.

Kennedy's personal and political views are a matter of historical record, but somewhere along the way, the carefully constructed image of Camelot, which the Natalie Portman-led biopic "Jackie" also addressed, took over and left the general populace with a different view of his family name. Ultimately, Jack Nelson is only a fictional character and does not offer a one-to-one comparison to the real-life Joseph Kennedy. As Knight put it to Den of Geek, "With Peaky [Blinders], you look at history and you take real facts and fictionalize them."