Tom Hardy’s Taboo is a totally enthralling experience. This dark and dense eight-part series is filled with grit and gravel. It’s uncompromising in its vision and Hardy’s James Delaney is a dark anti-hero who cuts a brooding figure as he rumbles through a grimy 19th Century London disrupting the status quo of high society. A co-production between FX and the BBC, Taboo is a success of all technical fronts – this Ridley Scott produced series looks fantastic and can almost smell and taste the filth wafting through the streets of London.
Merging elements of classic literature, this period drama has strains of Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas and H. Rider Haggard woven into its frayed fabric (a key moment is also influenced by Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs). A power struggle and a tale of revenge, Taboo sees Hardy’s Delany battle against the Crown and East India Trading Company over a vital parcel of land in America that was bequeathed to him by his dead father.
Taboo was created by Hardy, his father Chips and frequent collaborator Steven Knight and the show plays to all of Hardy Jr’s strengths as an actor. Hardy’s performance is masterful and he balances his trademark intensity with madness and soft moments of humour. It’s a captivating bit of acting and few stars would be willing to put themselves front and centre in such a dark role. Delany may have redeeming qualities, but he’s also a man who would (literally) rip your throat out with his teeth in a dark street.
Hardy is surrounded by a selection of quirky and memorable satellite characters. David Hayman is great as the servant Delany inherited from his father (a character with notes of Batman’s Alfred Pennyworth), while there’s a colourful collection of supporting players from Jonathan Pryce, Jessie Buckley, Oona Chaplin, Tom Hollander, Stephen Graham and Michael Kelly. The only character who fails to ring true is Mark Gatiss’ cartoonish Prince Regent – he’s too out of place in this dark tale.
Taboo is a show with rich characterisation and it unveils its plot like an impressive adaptation of a classic period novel. There’s a tremendous amount to recommend in this exceptional eight-part series – but the main draw is Tom Hardy’s primal performance. Taboo perfectly contained as a one-off series but it also sets up a second season that will likely offer a very different atmosphere and a whole new set of challenges for Hardy’s James Delany.