Tom Hardy’s Taboo hit BBC One amidst a smattering of (mostly) positive reviews and chatter surrounding Hardy’s personal financial investment in the show – he kicked in Â£2m ($3.2m AUD) of his own coin in order to cover production costs. Hardy created the show with regular collaborator Steven Knight (Locke, Peaky Blinders) and his father Edward “Chips” Hardy. Its teaser trailers offered hints at yet another enigmatic Hardy performance inside a dark and jagged narrative. It was creepy, mysterious and intriguing, something that piqued one’s interest in spite of ““ or due to ““ the secrecy surrounding the finer points of the story. The name itself engendered thoughts toward provocation and controversy, and the show’s backdrop appeared gloomy and unsettling. I’ll admit, I was immediately drawn to this unnerving recipe.
And so it was, with utter delight and anticipation, that I cracked open the first episode, and it did not disappoint. However, before we delve further, I feel that it is important to address a crucial aspect that one must consider and prepare for when viewing this opening act: its pacing is slow and deliberate, and the episode dares you to look away, lest you miss something crucial. It does not hold your hand or move with predictability, and challenges your focus and proficiency to absorb the crumbs of clues and revelations it serves up ever so intermittently. This show looks like it’ll be an investment of time and energy for the viewer, however early signs indicate that such a venture will reap a deliciously satisfying return on investment, such is the shadowy and enthralling nature of its allure.
There’ll be no spoilers here, so I must tread lightly, however I can tell you that the story starts out following a weathered looking James Delaney (Hardy) as he returns to London at the news of his father’s passing. The year is 1814, and he is returning from Africa. His presence at the funeral stirs grief and alarm for the other attendees, including his own sister Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin, Game of Thrones). Simmering in the background is a group of wealthy and scheming old men who are very wary of Delaney, and also extremely eager to discuss with him the land his father bequeathed to him in his will. To say more of the plot would be to spoil some of the finer points, and in a show that dances to such a sombre and (initially) decelerated tune, such revelations would be sacrilege.
Instead, I shall focus upon the things that won’t spoil the viewers’ appetites. Firstly, Hardy is magnetic in his portrayal of Delaney. His character has such an intensity and strangeness, executed so skilfully, that it gives the viewer a much-needed and immediate “in” to the story. The nuances of his performance are ““ simply put ““ magnificent. This is a man who is in complete control of his craft. Amidst his grunting, snarling interactions with others, we get to see a cast containing a wide array of trusted, familiar faces. I won’t spoil who to expect and in what role; to do so would undermine the shows overall ethic of mystery and intrigue.
The setting is so wonderfully dark and gloomy that it draws you ever further into the narrative as the episode rolls on, and this is crucial for laying the stable foundations for a consistent tone and mood. It feels as though there’ll be a continual and steady increase to the tempo, all within this enticingly visceral and macabre vision of London. And, finally, there are the little nuggets it sporadically throws up, with each of them connecting a small piece of a puzzle that speaks to a murky, winding and foreboding road ahead.
If you decide to journey into the world of Taboo remember ye this: patience is a virtue.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10