Don’t be fooled by its Saturday night timeslot, Taboo is not friendly viewing for the whole family. Reuniting Peaky Blinders writer Steven Knight and acting’s Tom Hardy – whose scene-stealing turn as Alfie Solomons in the former’s Brummie thriller made a second collaboration a certainty – Taboo is a gritty and bloody tale of a savage man who’s hell-bent on revenge. Ant and Dec wouldn’t last one second in this world.
Hardy, who co-created the series with his dad ‘Chips’, plays mysterious adventurer James Delaney. Long presumed dead after disappearing to Africa, the grumpy traveller returns to London town to investigate the shady circumstances surrounding his father’s recent death and to stake claim to his inheritance – a small but vital plot of land off the west coast of the Americas.
Delaney is a dangerous and unpredictable character, of that there is surely no doubt. His unexpected return home reignites rumours of his past, which included re-enacting The Revenant’s bear-mauling scene in Chancery Lane, and you get the sense he’s going to go full Bane again before too long as he stomps around the city looking to settle old scores. It’s a typically intense performance from Hardy, who so often excels at playing this kind of eccentric hardman. He seems to perpetually teeter on the edge of madness as he growls ominously about his plans for vengeance: “Forgive me father for I have indeed sinned.”
If it is indeed a bust-up Delaney is searching for, he’s not short of potential enemies. Of immediate concern is the shadowy East India Company, led by a characteristically devious Jonathan ‘High Sparrow’ Pryce, who desire Delaney’s island for their own gain and are perfectly willing to bend the law in order to get it. But he might also want to keep a glowering eye on his pompous brother-in-law and conflicted half-sister, who don’t seem like the sort of people to let a big payday slip through their grasp without putting up a fight.
While much of the plot might inspire recollections of Poldark – a brooding son returns home to attempt to revive his recently deceased father’s crumbling business – we’re really a long way from the sun, sand and sexy scything of Aiden Turner’s tricorned anti-hero. Like Peaky Blinders, Taboo is a darker, more modern take on the period drama – as director Kristoffer Nyholm’s (The Killing) stylish visuals make clear. The expensive production values paint a vivid picture of 19th Century London as a corrupt wasteland shrouded in a thick fog which conceals its characters’ greedy schemes and intentions.
This darkness sometimes strays into overkill, especially for Hardy’s Delaney who alternates between spouting portentous proclamations of violence and experiencing nightmarish flashbacks of his troubles in Africa. Still, if sequins, sob stories and Gary Barlow aren’t really your thing, then Taboo might just be the show to liven up your Saturday night telly.