Taboo: First Impressions

The innovation of Tom Hardy and his father, ‘Chips’, Taboo is a far cry from its comparable competitor, Poldark. Brought to life by Ridley Scott and written by Peaky Blinders’ Steven Knight, Taboo offers a sinister, yet intriguing, addition to Saturday night TV.

Featuring a Nordic directorial dream-team, Anders Engström and Kristoffer Nyholm, and an impressive international supporting cast, including Franka Potente (The Bourne Identity) and Michael Kelly (House of Cards), Taboo’s foundations are strong. The BBC has taken a risk in terms of its controversial narrative but has undoubtedly formed a talented crew to helm the eight-part drama.

Presumed dead following the sinking of a slave ship, James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy) swaggers into a repulsive Regency London to preside over his father’s, funeral (Edward Fox) and later avenge his death. With a half-sister, Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) set to inherit what little Horace left behind, James’ arrival is not a welcome one; he ends up inheriting his father’s only real asset – Nootka Sound, a slither of land, critically located on the American-Canadian border.

While relentlessly referred to as mad, Delaney is clearly sound of mind when it comes to business – taking over his father’s affairs without a second thought. The backdrop of a stinking London is cramped and claustrophobic – the set designers need credit, I spent the first twenty minutes feeling grateful for living in the 21st century.

James Keziah Delaney: half-savage madman or a troubled soul?

Despite having been in Africa for years, Delaney conveys an eternal air of confidence and distain – with a no-BS attitude concerning the Monarchy or the brutes running the ruthless East India Trading Co., both of which are clamouring for the deeds to Nootka Sound.

The atrocities of Delaney’s past have evidently moulded him into a man with little to worry about, he has already resigned himself to a life of atonement, as the ghostly spirits that plague his mind tend to remind him of.

To be perfectly honest, Delaney seems to be the only trustworthy character: we know he’s a troubled man who has a few issues, to say the least, but he never claims to be anything more. The rest of London’s denizens that we encounter clearly all have an agenda, one which they are willing to achieve by any means necessary.

Taboo - Generic
Jonathan Pryce as Sir Stuart Strange, East India Trading Co.

The dark narrative tone is mirrored by Taboo’s aesthetics: I look forward to a potential foray to Nootka Sound or a flashback to Africa to simply escape the atrocities of London.

The acting throughout is perfectly sinister, particularly by Jonathan Pryce, portraying the EIC’s Sir Stuart Strange, in true High Sparrow fashion. Furthermore, the abominable Thorne Geary whose casual utterance of racial slurs is enough to make me wish Delaney will eventually eliminate his brother-in-law. From the incestuous insinuations between James and Zilpha, the foreseeable brutalities of the East India Trading Co. and the allusions of Delaney’s mystical heritage, I’d say we have a lot to look forward to in Taboo.

Perhaps it’s the controversial indulgence that we didn’t know we needed?

Only time will tell.

Thanks for reading.

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