Created by Chips Hardy, Tom Hardy, Steven Knight
Starring Tom Hardy, Jonathan Pryce
Thought of as dead by polite society in 1812 London, James Delaney (Tom Hardy), stages a dramatic return from Africa at the funeral of his father. However his resurrection causes problems for the East India Company, as they have plans for the older Delaney’s estate. Soon James finds himself caught in a power struggle between the powerful company, the Crown, and the fledgling nation of America (currently at war with England), as all seek to control the strategic strip of land which he’s inherited. However Delaney has his own resources to draw upon, and be it madness or witchery, his wildly unpredictable moves threaten to ignite the volatile situation.
One part incestuous Gothic pot-boiler, one part ultra-violent Mary Sue, with just a dash of historical inaccuracy, Taboo somehow comes across as immensely entertaining. The absolute linchpin for this is Hardy, who is utterly captivating as the central character of Delaney. Cut from the cloth of a classic London folk hero, but filtered through the lens of the modern troubled anti-hero, the “Devil Delaney” is brought to life be Hardy’s gravelly monotone. The result is riveting, as Hardy cavorts, growls, and mutters his way through the halls of commerce and the whorehouses of the London docks. It’s a performance that shouldn’t work, yet the actor’s physicality and sheer belief in the role shine through.
Aided by a prestigious supporting cast (Jonathan Pryce, David Hayman, Mark Gatiss), Taboo becomes a show where extreme performances bounce off one another to surprisingly good effect. Although bordering on pantomime, the quality actors never quite allow it to cross over the threshold. It’s a remarkable balancing act, and one that is rewarding to watch.
Then there is the setting itself, an era ripe with intrigue brought to wondrous life. Taboo is certainly a handsome production, and does manage to shed some light into the society and the politics of the time (despite the occasional mistake). The London of the 1800s is laid bare for us, from boardroom to bawdy house, banquet hall to bar room; the seedy and the opulent are opened up in equal measure.
By the end of season one, Taboo has shown itself to be a rough gem: full of melodrama, but strangely engaging because of it.