Re-teaming writer Steven Knight and Tom Hardy – the two previously collaborated to great success with Locke and Peaky Blinders – Taboo is BBC’s latest period drama. Set in 1814, it tells the tale of James Keziah Delaney (Hardy), a former soldier believed to be dead in Africa. He returns to England to claim his dead father’s belongings – a small piece of land which links America to China for trading. His reappearance rustles the feathers of many, most notably those of Sir. Stuart Strange (Jonathan Price), a villainous high-ranking member of the East India Company who will seize Delaney’s property at whatever cost.
From the first episode, it appears BBC have continued their streak of delivering very well-crafted – both atmospherically and aesthetically – television shows like Peaky Blinders, The Fall or Witness for the Prosecution with Taboo. The first four episodes of the series are to be helmed by skilled TV director Kristoffer Nyholm (the original The Killing, The Enfield Haunting), a filmmaker well-versed in building a potent mood within the confines of the medium. In the pilot episode, he dimly lights the interior night-time scenes – just enough to comprehend what is happening – while still creating the sensation of being in a world where fire-light is all there is. Meanwhile, the day-time sections, aside from the lavish headquarters of the East India Company, look authentically muddy and dirty, just as they would have in 1814.
The show is clearly a labour of love for Hardy (he co-created it, along with his father Chips and Steven Knight), something evident in his performance. While on paper, Delaney could be read as being similar to the actor’s previous characters – he mumbles a great deal – there is something noticeably distinct about his portrayal in Taboo. Although he lumbers like Bane and shares some vocal tics with his anti-hero from Locke, there’s a mix of brute, masculine swagger and mysterious otherworldliness that sets it apart from his previous work. He’s utterly compelling while threatening Franka Potente’s prostitute character who won’t vacate his premises – he growls: “You send me twelve men. I’ll send you twelve sets of testicles” in the show’s most Peaky Blinders moment. However, he excels equally delivering strange foreboding lines whose meaning remains unclear. Referring to his father’s secrets he shouldn’t know, he states without explanation “He told me everything when he lit his fires on the foreshore.”
Ultimately, Taboo’s first hour played its’ cards a little too close to its’ chest in terms of divvying out information – we only get a glimpse of Delaney’s past, his potentially incestuous relationship with his half-sister (Oona Chaplin) and his very very distant relationship with his son. At the minute, it’s hard to completely empathise or even understand the motives of Hardy’s character. However, the actor is entrancing to watch and his verbal sparring with the wonderfully slimy Jonathan Pryce in the show’s closing moments, hints at possibly great things to come. Stephen Porzio