Directors: Kristoffer Nyholm & Anders Engstrom
Synopsis: Adventurer James Keziah Delaney returns to London during the War of 1812 to rebuild his late father’s shipping empire. However, both the government and his biggest competitor want his inheritance at any cost.
Rating: 18 Duration 8 x 60 minute episodes Release date: 29 May (UK)
It’s hard to define Taboo into something concise and easy to comprehend for the sake of a review. Tom Hardy’s passion project is an amalgamation of different genres and its visceral delivery may leave some viewers put off by the whole affair. There’s a lot going on in what ought to be a fairly straightforward tale of one man’s revenge against an evil corporation, but Hardy and show runner Steven Knight do their best to confuse matters. And despite resembling a hotel room after Keith Richard’s has emptied the alcohol fridge, Taboo is immensely gripping with Tom Hardy utterly absorbing as James Delaney.
Taboo gives you little time to settle into its unique rhythm. Barely has a “fuck” been uttered, of which there are many, and Tom Hardy’s rogue James Keziah Delaney has returned from Africa and set in motion his plan to grab the nefarious East India Company and the King by their collective nether regions and twist until he gets exactly what he wants. Lines are crossed, step-sisters are turned on and King & country are equally threatened. It’s a lot to take in and Taboo doesn’t go out of its way to make anything easy for the viewer. In fact, quite the opposite is true and the show twists and turns like a finely executed car chase but seems content to throw in variables simply to distract the viewer rather than pay off in the long run. This can become frustrating and threatens to take away from what is otherwise an excellent watch.
Taboo rests upon Tom Hardy’s broad shoulders and barely a scene goes by without the camera focusing on his face, ready for a grumble or one syllable word to be mumbled. So engaging has Hardy become as an actor that he can say more with a mumble or a nod than some actors could do with an entire script. The show doesn’t so much live or die by Hardy’s performance, but it needs him to be more than the sum of its parts. With Hardy beguiling in a way none can compete with, the rest of the cast have to raise their game to compete with him. Even old hats like Richard Pryce and David Hayman must elevate themselves to another level so they don’t seem lacking. Hardy has always been capable of the madness needed to play James Delaney and anyone who has seen Bronson will attest to how far he can push himself, a feat which forces others to do the same.
Despite the glorious acting on show by all, it can be hard to make sense of a show that borders on mumble-core at times. The volume of the actors versus that of the action is an affliction found on a much wider scale these days, but Taboo seems to suffer from this more than most. Complaints can, quite rightly, be levelled at the show for making some dialogue incomprehensible to the point of frustration. Viewers may well have turned off when the show aired on TV back in January and, unfortunately for them, it has not been cleared up on the DVD release. Adding to the frustration is a plot that could have been so simple; man is wronged, leaves country, returns, seeks revenge on those who wronged him. While those aforementioned points remain, Taboo throws so many sub-plots and characters into the mix that it can be hard to keep track of what’s relevant. There is the argument that things may have been set in place for another series, apparently they have planned for three, but by the end you begin to wonder whether some elements needed to be raised. Which in itself is strange because it puts it at odds with what we are presented, as it feels so self-contained by the end.
There is also the default criticism of any TV show, its length. Whether a show is six, 12 or 24 episodes long it will always have filler episodes. Taboo starts off well and keeps up the momentum through to episode four, after that the pace slows and things start to drag over the next two episodes until picking up again for an almighty finale. Taking its cues from both the western and gangster genres, episodes seven and eight are a maelstrom of violence resulting in a highly enjoyable conclusion.
There are legitimate criticisms to be levelled at Taboo, but the show, much like its lead, remains compelling to the last. So much so that by the end there is a desire for more, and more TV like this can only be a good thing.