Tom Hardy's Skin Might Just Be Peaky Blinders' Biggest Mystery

Tom Hardy's "Peaky Blinders" character has been through a lot over the course of the series' six seasons. Most notably, in the fourth season finale his character Alfie Solomons got shot in the face by on-and-off ally Tommy (Cillian Murphy), only to apparently live to reconcile with the show's antihero another day. Hardy returned in the fifth season, one eye blinded and his face scarred by the injury, yet still walking and talking and ready to knock some skulls as needed.

Except, what ever happened to the cancer that Alfie told Tommy he had just before he got shot? And what about his unexplained skin condition, which gets progressively worse throughout the series before being mostly replaced by his gunshot scars in season 5? Was his coarse and discolored skin a hint at the cancer diagnosis, or something else entirely? Surprisingly, the answer might tie in to the key "Peaky Blinders" character's ultimate fate.

A collaboration in the makeup chair

Though Alfie himself seems to ignore the state of his skin, which starts off perfectly fine but appears intermittently scaly and textured throughout the show, makeup artist and hairstylist Loz Schiavo has gone on record to explain his appearance. "I decided from the beginning to give him psoriasis, making his skin red and blotchy around the neck, beard and hairline," she told Chap Magazine in 2018. The artist explained to Artefact Magazine that she and Hardy worked together to build the look of the chronic skin condition, which is still common today but was likely not as easily managed back in the 1920s.

Schiavo says that the look was meant to reflect the rough work environment distillery owner Alfie spends time in, one that isn't exactly conducive to establishing a regular skincare routine. She told Artefact:

"We worked together on his overall look and decided to create psoriasis all over his face to imitate what the conditions from being down in the cellar in his rum production company would have done to his skin."

The makeup artist used the thickener Attagel, theatrical makeup concentrate Blue Marble, and colored makeup to turn the actor's normally smooth face into one that was plagued by a rash-like disease. "He loved the idea of creating psoriasis to add to his character and tell his story using make-up," Schiavo told the outlet.

A complicating diagnosis

Since neither Alfie nor any other characters draw attention to his psoriasis, it makes sense that fans would question it and, later, speculate that it was actually a clue to his health all along. In the fourth season finale, Tommy confronts Alfie on a beach, and when the crime lord asks the gang leader if he's armed, Alfie replies, "No, don't be daft. The only thing I got on me is f****** cancer, mate." He drops the bomb while Tommy has a gun in his hand, seeming more resigned than upset. Alfie says he's "riddled with it," and that a doctor told him he might have contracted the illness from gas exposure in France during World War I.

Though Alfie doesn't say what type of cancer he has, Schiavo tells Chap that the "Peaky Blinders" team did have a specific kind in mind. "From season 1, Solomon has lung cancer," she says while explaining the addition of psoriasis, "but we wanted something else that showed physically on the exterior. Obviously psoriasis isn't a sign of lung cancer, but it's not a sign of good health either." So while the two aren't technically related, one could still be taken as an omen of the other — a physical way to make viewers start questioning the health of the fan favorite character.

Alfie's surprise return

All of this is complicated somewhat by the fact that Alfie doesn't die in "Peaky Blinders" season 4, but reappears in seasons 5 and 6, never mentioning the cancer again. He says he was in a hospital for months after his gunshot wound, but makes no mention of the illness he was previously "riddled with." And while he now sports a gnarly scar from the bullet he took to the face, he's not visibly ill, either.

While the sudden disappearance of Alfie's health issues may seem like a plot hole, there could be more to it. On the surface, it would make sense for Alfie to lie to Tommy in order to give his sometimes-friend the courage to do what had to be done in killing him. This is a popular fan theory, but it wouldn't explain Schiavo's comments about the character having lung cancer.

Another theory is even more unexpected. In BBC's "Obsessed With..." podcast, director Anthony Byrne spoke about Alfie's season 5 return, and cast doubt over his status in the story. When discussing scenes in which Tommy imagines he's speaking with his dead wife, Byrne let slip that he also sees the Alfie scene as something less than real life. "I always said that it's not real," Byrne shares. "It's something that just sort of existed somewhere else, that it is in limbo. But everything is just played for real because you're dealing with somebody's mental health."

Could Alfie actually be dead?

While the idea that Alfie may be appearing as a figment of Tommy's subconscious may first seem outlandish, there's some evidence to it. Hardy only appears in three episodes across the last two seasons, and in the most recent one, he sits alone with Tommy in a shadowy bar. "As for death," he says at one point, "speaking for someone who has been dead for a number of years, I can only heartily recommend it." Presumably, he's talking about faking his own death, but Alfie's words seem more mysterious and loaded since his return: in the fifth season finale, he also describes an ominous dream about Tommy that comes true.

In pop culture, "he was dead the whole time" theories tend to be plentiful, irritating, and usually easily disproven, but the fact that someone involved in the show has expressed some support for this one makes it genuinely intriguing. Plus, there's also the fact that a doctor in season 6 tells Tommy that he has an inoperable brain tumor. If that is the case, Alfie's presence post-season 4 could be the crime saga's answer to the infamous "Grey's Anatomy" ghost-Denny plot, only much cooler and not cringe-inducingly terrible.

From psoriasis to cancer to a gunshot wound and beyond, Alfie's face has always told his story, with makeup artist Loz Schiavo helping to bring it to life. He remains one of the most interesting characters in "Peaky Blinders," and he's almost certain to play a part in the story's feature film endgame – whether in corporeal form or not. "Shall we go, and witness the final act?" Tommy asks his associate in that shadowy bar in the series finale. We're ready for it when he is.