I don’t watch a lot of period pieces. If there’s not at least a little of bit fantasy involved (Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful) it’s kind of a no fly zone. I decided to watch Taboo however for 2 reasons, Tom Hardy is the man (I expect nothing less from a Picard clone!) and a really strong advertising campaign. Now that the first season is over I’ve decided one thing, Taboo is a Dope show!
Taking place in 1814 London, Hardy plays James Delaney, a mysterious, truculent character, presumed long dead by his friends and family, only to return from Africa after a 12 year absence to attend his fathers funeral. To say the people of London don’t like Delaney is an understatement, especially when it’s revealed James inherited a special plot of land from his father, a piece of land that the Crown, America and the most powerful corporation in the world, The East India Company, all want. To top that off, Delany has a long list of rumored crimes and abhorrences working against him (I’m not going to give them away, but let’s just say Taboo is a fitting title for the show). Delany, armed only with frightful grit and a sack of African diamonds, sets on an impressive path of empire building in a brutal city where everyone wants him dead.
As I’ve said, the show takes place in 1814, thus the tail end of America’s Revolution, and seeing that time period play out from the side of a super fascinating/repellent old England was a true joy. Most of the time when you see something taking place in England in the 1800’s, it’s usually the 1890’s. This makes the setting of the show seem even more special, and the makeup and set design of the show are super impressive (one of the creators, Steven Knight, made the popular period piece Peaky Blinders) and the cinematography/directing is stunning. The show felt both immersive, and luckily, like a time far far away.
Seeing Tom Hardy rip up 1814’s England made me quite pleased. It’s a grossly macabre place, sexy and disturbing, funny and horrifying. One of the more off putting and especially engaging settings in the show is the opulent offices of the East India Company. Seeing (the excellent) Johnathan Pryce’s Sir Stuart Strange, Chairman of the uber powerful company, and his smug AF minions going to barbarous lengths of stop Delany from acquiring his fathers land was a real thrill. There are many points while watching Taboo that feel like watching a ye olde version of Mr. Robot.
There’s also a bit of a Scarface/Breaking Bad thing going on, as Delaney builds a team of thugs, prostitutes, and even a debaucherous chemist to fight for his mysterious goals. I really like characters like Tony Montana and Walter White, and James Delaney played by the always fantastic Tom Hardy is a really magnificent character. He’s a really terrible dude, if you knew even a little bit about the guy you would run the other way, you would never want to be part of his crew or his friend. However he’s the kind of ill tempered dangerous dude you can see going against the most powerful organizations in the world. He’s like a pre The Usual Suspects Keyser Söze, running all over England drinking, slashing, doing crazy voodoo stuff. He’s truly a scary guy, but he’s our scary guy, since every character in this show pretty much sucks. Hardy’s made a great career in playing interesting leading men, often as mad as they are masculine (Bronson, the Kray twins, Mad Max) and since he co-created the character with his dad, Chips Hardy, James Delaney is literally custom made for the intense thespian.
Man the cast is great, along with Hardy and Pryce, Game of Thrones’ Oona Chaplin is great as James’ straight laced/dysfunctional sister, Stephen Graham, Franke Potente, Tom Hollander, Jason Watkins and Jessie Buckley all give key provocative performances as well as all the great actors who play EIC cronies. Also, let’s not forget the great Mark Gatiss as the Prince Regent, wearing what I can only assume was his Mycroft fat suit from that 1800’s ep. of Sherlock. Everyone is freaking great ok!
Ultimately what I love about this show is how unapologetic it is. James Delaney is terrible, he has almost no sense of morality and has a truly twisted psyche, but seriously fuck this place! This early 1800’s England is the worst, it’s no different from the worst parts of today’s society, a bunch of assholes with $ and power using all of their influence to try and control everything. Hardy’s Delaney is almost like a folk hero (albeit the kind that they leave out all the really unseemly stuff about when they tell the tale), he becomes sort of heroic because of who his enemies are and how he fights them. With a impressive use of strategy, physical viciousness, and palpable insanity, you feel like Delaney has a chance against, well, pretty much all of England. It makes for a thrilling watch and a truly enjoyable show.
I guess I have to say this show isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for kids. Even though it’s on FX it might as well be on HBO. There’s F-bombs everywhere, sex scenes, disembowelment, it’s pretty hardcore. I really had a great time watching it! By the end of the first season, all I could think was, “Damn this is like watching an Assassins Creed movie, but like, a really good one!” Check out Taboo wherever you watch stuff.