Taboo episode 1 review: Tom Hardy's BBC drama makes for frustrating viewing

Heavyweight actors Hardy and Jonathan Pryce give bucketfuls of gravitas to their roles

Jack Shepherd
Saturday 07 January 2017 20:27
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Over the last few years, the number of TV shows that leave viewers with more questions than answers has grown exponentially. What started with Lost has led to Game of Thrones and the brilliant Westworld, shows that have increased in popularity thanks to rabid fan discussion on the internet.

The first episode of Taboo – created by Tom Hardy, his father Chips, and frequent collaborator Steven Knight – pines after the same audience by giving away very little while hinting at lots to come.

Set in 1814 London – which shares a similar dirty aesthetic with Peaky Blinders Taboo centres on blunt-talking James Delany, played by Hardy, who returns to England from Africa following his father’s mysterious death. Delany, however, was believed to be dead, his appearance at the funeral disrupting plans made by his half-sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) and husband Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall) to sell an inherited plot of land to the East India Trading Company.

Having caused quite a stir, Delany decides to pay numerous characters from his past a visit, including his father’s butler, lawyer, and the aforementioned villainous trading company, headed by Jonathan Pryce, who channels the same arrogance seen in his Game of Thrones character, the High Sparrow. Things, obviously, aren’t as they appear: Delany has a bizarre and unexplained connection with the undead along with a vicious temper, making numerous threats without doing anything particularly threatening.

Taboo - trailer

From these various exchanges – each filled to the brim with exposition – we’re left with dozens of unanswered questions, some of which can be inferred (Delany’s abandoned son is presumably his and Zilpha’s love child), others merely guessed at (did Delany make a pact with the devil in Africa?). Unfortunately, by giving very little away it also leaves viewers with very little reason to care for any of these characters, including Delany, who appears to have righteous intentions but spends the majority of the hour brooding.

Of course, heavyweight actors Hardy and Pryce give bucketfuls of gravitas to their roles, even if Hardy’s wavering Bane-like accent and ridiculous hat are sometimes unintentionally humorous. Other characters, including Chaplin’s Zilpha, have had very little to offer just yet, mainly thanks to the camera barely leaving Hardy’s face. It is his show, after all, yet some extended breaks from his intense performance could be beneficial.

At its conclusion, Taboo left me in a strange place. While I’m curious to see what happens to the grizzled Delany, there’s a frustration knowing so little about these characters after an hour’s viewing. The pace is slow and the payoff, which has barely been hinted at, could be minimal, leaving me to question whether the show is worth investing further Saturday nights into.

Hopefully, as things pick up, Taboo will reveal a solid storyline to anchor down these so-far loosely fitting plot-lines. For now, though, without offering any real sense of adventure, I can’t help thinking there are more worthwhile shows to be watching.

Taboo continues Saturday night at 9.15 pm on BBC One.

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