Taboo begins with what some suspect is a dead man returning from Africa. Dead man? Is it Martin Guerre? No, it’s James Keziah Delaney (Tom Hardy) who has a lot secrets, a lot of anger, a lot of ambition, and… a lot of diamonds.
The year is 1814, and street merchant hygiene left a lot to be desired as Health and Safety were a long time from being formed. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of mysterious rumours flying around about him, none of which he’s doing anything to put to bed as he’s such a nasty man he even steals the coins from the eyes of his freshly-deceased father, who solicitor Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) describes as a “mad old bastard”.
Despite being at odds with pater, he inherits his father’s entire shipping empire plus a patch of land in an area known as the Nootka Sound. It’s a highly sought-after piece of land, and he can make a stack of cash from it, as those countries interested in it are also at war, with the location giving both a competitive advantage, so he certainly knows how to coin it in, in a recession.
The only man he trusts is Brace (David Hayman), who puts the Downstairs in Upstairs Downstairs, given his role in life, while ex-girlfriend Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin) tries to charm him out of his inheritance, while executor Robert Thoyt (Nicholas Woodeson) has wanted to buy his father’s company for a long time.
Money isn’t huge in number, here. Zilpha offers James £50 for his legacy, while the knocking shop run by Helga – that’s taken up residence – only makes £10 per day, of which he’s offered half plus “anything you like” in the form of men, women or younger. He replies: “You send me 12 men, and I will return you 12 sets of testicles in a bag, and we can watch your little whores devour them together, before I chop off your trotters and boil them.”
Oh, and in a big cast where there’s a requirement for a lot of dirty teeth to be on show, Christopher Fairbank is never far from a programme like this.
I never got into writer Steven Knight‘s Peaky Blinders, but early on, there’s lots of talk of pissing, and then later when James saw his son, he said “I’m not a fit man to be around children”. Is it the new Jimmy Savile?
Hardy has great screen presence and makes so many films that you wouldn’t expect him to be able to commit to an eight-part TV series, outside of Peaky Blinders, I presume, but then this is a combined creation between the two along with Tom’s father, Chips. Who was his mother – Whizzer?
Presented with some decent Dolby Digital 5.1 split-surround audio, The first episode was very slow-moving, and difficult to get into. It looks great, playing out like a series of videogame cut-scenes, but is very ponderous and may as well feature the cast repeatedly saying “Gritty BAFTA”. As it ended, I felt there was just enough to give it a second go next week, but it had better deliver a lot more of the goods. Looks more a BBC2 sort of thing, but they’ve clearly spent a lot of money on it, so it got promoted to BBC1, albeit shoved randomly into the post-watershed schedule.
This first episode was not available for review prior to transmission, and I can see why. I was also similarly unimpressed with episode 2. Hardy was good, as he always is, but the episode was either people shouting or a series or set pieces with well-known faces, such as Stephen Graham. That’s not enough for any series.
Taboo continues next Saturday on BBC1 at 9.15pm, and is available to pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD, ahead of its release on a date yet to be confirmed. The first episode is available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Also, click on the top image for the full-size version.
Episode 1 Score: 3/10
Director: Kristoffer Nyholm
Producer: Tim Bricknell
Executive Producers: Dean Baker, Kate Crowe, Carlo Dusi, Tom Hardy, Steven Knight and Ridley Scott
Creator: Chips Hardy, Tom Hardy and Steven Knight
Writer: Steven Knight
Music: Max Richter
James Keziah Delaney: Tom Hardy
Zilpha Geary: Oona Chaplin
Robert: Louis Ashbourne Serkis
Appleby: Roger Ashton-Griffiths
Delf: Paul Bigley
Wilton: Leo Bill
Helga: Franka Potente
Brace: David Hayman
Sir Stuart Strange: Jonathan Pryce
Thoyt: Nicholas Woodeson
Pettifer: Richard Dixon
Ibbotson: Christopher Fairbank
Hall: Alex Ferns
Horace Delaney: Edward Fox
Prince Regent: Mark Gatiss
Strange’s Clerk: James Greaves
Hope: Oliver Powell
Mace: Andrew Greenough
Pearl: Tallulah Rose Haddon
Thorne Geary: Jefferson Hall
Quaker: Andrew Havill
Wilton: Edward Hogg
Martinez: Danny Ligairi
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.