It’s been a long time coming for Taboo, a dark UK period drama starring Tom Hardy.
The series, co-created by Hardy with his father Edward “Chips” Hardy and Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders), screened in Britain in January. BBC First has held off its Australian launch to follow Game of Thrones on both BBC First and Showcase (only the first episode, you understand).
So has it been worth the wait? Yes and not really. Taboo is a brooding, shadowy piece and there’s much to admire on the screen, but I’m not about to go calling it the next hot thing, which it really ought to be after keeping us waiting.
In London 1814 James Delaney (Hardy) returns home after 10 years abroad, most recently in Africa, to bury his father (Edward Fox).
“Forgive me father for I have indeed sinned,” he whispers to the corpse.
But to both family, in the form of his half-sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin), and the locals, his return is a shock. They thought him long-dead, giving rise to all kinds of mischievous tall-tales.
“I heard you done a lot of evil over there,” he will be told.
Only his father’s servant (David Hayman) welcomes him home which, given his brusque manner and imposing presence, is pretty understandable. Chairman of the East India Company, Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce), is decidedly opposed to his return, upon learning that James will inherit what’s left of his father’s shipping empire and his plans to hold onto Nootka Sound, a small but valuable piece of the Canadian coast which will yield Vancouver and shipping lanes to China.
But our anti-hero is dealing with his own demons, including feelings for his half-sister that nod to the title, and flashback experiences with death, spectres and the underworld. No wonder he walks around without saying too much to these Londoners….
Taboo opens as a slow-burn with a cast of character actors. In his tall hat and heavy coat Hardy cuts a striking silhouette, and a man who means business. Georgian England resembles Dickens in mud. It’s damp, unforgiving, and shot through shadows of light.
Jonathan Pryce, however, is resplendent in high collars, surrounded by pots of tea and elegant chairs. From his powerful position lording over the East India trading company, he slips with ease into an upper class villain.
Whilst striding through scenes with as little dialogue as possible, a menacing Tom Hardy has ticked many boxes we find in premium drama: high visuals, flashes of violence, a dark past, theatrical setting and money on the screen. The link from period London to primal Africa is one of the show’s best attributes ….Taboo is no me Tarzan, you Jane.
But it also remains to be seen if this will not digress into a vanity piece for its star / co-creator, and for that to happen more characters will need their own complex storylines -something Game of Thrones has delivered time and again.
Taboo premieres 9:30pm Monday July 17 on BBC First (and Showcase).