BBC One – 7th January 2017 – 9:15pm
Written by: Steven Knight
Directed by: Kristoffer Nyholm
RUMOURS, WOE AND RESURRECTION
In a bold show of supreme confidence in the broader-than-usual appeal of their first major new drama of 2017, the BBC scheduled this dark period piece for a prime time Saturday evening slot. With Hollywood hunk Tom Hardy in the lead role and with Ridley Scott as an Executive producer, such star pedigree and lofty production values make it hard to question their decision. But did last night’s debut instalment of Taboo make me desperate to return next weekend?
“Dear God, there walks a dead man.”
Hardy plays the enigmatic James Keziah Delaney, a gruff, worldly individual who has been away from London for over a decade. Swirling in hushed rumours and long considered drowned with the slave ship he was travelling toward Antigua on, James shamelessly strides into his father’s funeral in 1814 ready to collect his inheritance: land in America providing a trade gateway through Vancouver. The East India Company – headed by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) – is desperate to pay him off for it, but James steadfastly refuses to even consider their offer.
Steely in demeanour, mysterious in his rumoured dealings in Africa and inhospitable in his ruthlessness, the man who was the Bane of the Dark Knight makes a throat clearing “Hmmm” sound like a threat. Good job too as Taboo’s first episode culminates in nothing more thrilling than a battle of stubborn persistence between Strange and Delaney. The rousing score denotes the rise in tension but neither party even leaves their seat around the table.
Prior to this cliffhanger we are submerged in the filth and desolation of a grey and grimy 19th Century London town, where horses are shot and butchered on the street mere feet from where men piss and prostitutes solicit… It’s grim, dark, dirty, sweary and, bluntly, just a little peculiar.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have indeed sinned.”
Taboo cleverly restrains from showing us its full hand so early in its eight-part run, but with James mumbling “negro words” at the graveside and plagued with haunting visions of a potentially supernatural nature (fog, screaming… witchcraft?), it is not hard to see why his half-sister, Zilpha (Oona Chaplin), is so perturbed by his reappearance, or why her aggrieved husband, Lt. Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall), wants him dead.
Writer Steven Knight (who previously penned Hardy in the acclaimed feature Locke) was clearly aiming to intrigue, and the love this received on social media last night seems to clarify that to the majority he has succeeded, but I am not won over quite yet. Everything was foul, downbeat and painted in shades of grey, while the pace was sluggish and despite the need to establish a tone, I found that not a great deal transpired. I will return next Saturday night, but Taboo may ultimately prove to be too dour and distasteful for my taste.
CR@B’s Claw Score: