Due to the vast success of Netflix Originals, and with Amazon Video now catching up, the small screen has fast become the place to develop stories and ideas beyond the cinema. It’s also now got the financial backing, more than ever in the history of television. STUDIOCANAL and the BBC’s Taboo is a stunning example of big budget, small screen success and when you’ve got an immersive lead like Tom Hardy, this is one very special, unique series indeed.
Set in 1812, in a pre-Victorian London, Taboo is a fantastically dark and visceral journey deep into the murky world of 19th century politics with a supernatural edge, that’s finely tuned and psychologically intriguing throughout. The term ‘powerhouse’ is an often overused descriptive in the world of top-class actors, who emanate confidence and fascination on-screen, but Tom Hardy deserves every essence of its existence and is backed by a great script and an impressive cast across the 8-episode run.
Hardy plays James Keziah Delaney, a man who everyone believes to be dead but inexplicably returns homes to London after being to places in Africa and beyond the suggested ordinary. It seems he’s been on some kind of existential journey and over the series you’ll learn more about where he’s gone and why. So, upon his return, he inherits the remains of his father’s shipping empire and begins to rebuild a life at home, but is very much trying to keep a piece of land (Nootka Sound in British Columbia, Canada) that’s a large part of the British Empire’s trade routes, and they want it from him.
What’s initially noticeable about Taboo is the truly breath-taking 1800s London scenery, costumes and sets that mean we don’t even question where we are, and so you’re instantly transported. It’s clear that with the backing of Hardy, and co-creator Steven Knight (as well as exec producer Ridley Scott and co-writer Chips Hardy, Tom’s father) this is a series to rival the likes of Game of Thrones. While very different in content, the fictional world of Delaney and the darkness that exudes from him, and all those around, is a marvel to watch and alongside a brooding score that soaks up that murky unknown, with the entire collaboration exuding power.
The smart element is also how they manage to splice period drama and a mysterious supernatural element that’s always lurking beneath the surface. Those moments are also represented as flashbacks and nightmares through Delaney, as he tries to work out what really occurred in the past and the things he did to get here, now. As we flip between James Delaney’s worlds, you start believing that he’s either the Devil, as characters around him start to consider as well, or if it’s just an exploration of a deep meditation that takes us somewhere we haven’t seen. Also impressive is Hardy’s commitment, once again, to this mystical, mysterious soul who’s dedicated to taking down those around him both physically and psychologically. You also get to hear the Hardy ‘grunt’ (watch a supercut) which can set a scene with just a sound.
It’s not all deep, darkness though because they also manage great, black humour throughout as well, and some parts that probably shouldn’t be funny become so and lightens the moment. This is often highlighted by the relationship between Delaney and his servant Brace played by the excellent David Hayman. House of Cards’ Michael Kelly also stars as another dislikeable, but superb, character and appears to know him better than most, and sometime uses his plans against him or, at least tries to.
In fact, the sheer quality of the co-starring cast, who consist of Jonathan Pryce, Oona Chaplin, Stephen Graham, Michael Kelly, Jessie Buckley, David Hayman, Tom Hollander, Jason Watkins, Franke Potente, Jefferson Hall, Ed Hogg, Leo Bill, Christopher Fairbank, Richard Dixon, Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Woodeson, Lucian Msamati, and Robert Parker, give Taboo a huge canvas in which we can go any direction and they all keep it compelling, right up to an exciting, explosive finale.
Conspiracy, death, betrayal, historic and enthralling, Taboo is at the top of what can be achieved when all the right elements are perfectly in place.