Taboo: 1.01

Stephen Knight has had a pretty good run with Peaky Blinders; it was inevitable that someone would reward that with another prestige TV show. And it would appear the combination of the project and the team involved was sufficient to lure Tom Hardy back onto our TV screens. He is in fact listed as co-creator, and also co-executive producer, along with Knight and Ridley Scott.

It is 1814 and James Delaney reappears in London after 10 years in Africa to claim a mysterious legacy left to him by his father. Oona Chaplin from Game of Thrones plays his half-sister Zilpha, whose husband has keen interest in the Delaney assets.
image
The inheritance? Not riches, but a strip of rocky, dangerous land on America's east coast, the Nootka Sound. A land, a tribe, that also provided James' mother, bought for gunpowder and beads. A land, a tribe, that has attracted the rapacious eye of the East India Company, in the person of Jonathan Pryce, recently also seen on Game of Thrones. The land, it appears, is of strategic relevance when the border between the United States and Canada is drawn up.

There's a mysterious element; the rumoured and fearsome activities of James in Africa, but also the purported mystical abilities assumed to be inherited from his mother. While the noble savage mysticism is a little tired, it works well here, with James more like that concept turned on it's head, the Savage Noble. A Tarzan/Lord Greystoke story, with more scowling, economic warfare and whores; chief amongst which is Helga, played by Bourne's Franka Potente.
image
Delaney's London is a filthy, vile place. Everyone says it's not a place that suits him, but quite the opposite is true. Between strong words and ominous silences, it's a London that suits Tom Hardy too. Rather than chew the scenery as in Peaky Blinders, he fills this role with glorious, ominous gravitas. While some may have preferred more levity, especially for a Saturday night slot, I think BBC period dramas have been in need of less bonnets and more heft and power.

While the stills released for some of the subsequent episodes imply more of a feel of Apocalypto than Dickensian machinations, or the rough and tumble plotting of the Shelby family, Taboo has started strong; high on intrigue, low in class-based pandering and high on expectation. So far, Taboo is looking like must-watch TV. It may not have Peaky Blinders' excellent music choices, but the plot, acting and cinematography are heavy draws for those tired of Downton Abbey and its ilk.

image