Taboo (BBC1 2017) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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The new season of shows on BBC1 continues with what seems like a brave decision for peak time on Saturday night.  It is best described as brooding – which is traditionally not what we like to do on a Saturday, but this brave decision might just very well pay off.

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What has tempted BBC1 to make this ratings risk alongside its Saturday night family fare of light entertainment and medical drama? Answer- One Tom Hardy.  Oscar nominated for “The Revenant” Hardy has the power to burn up every thing he appears in.  On TV he has been unforgettable as Bill Sikes and as the lead character in the Martina Cole series “The Take”.  Filmwise, it was the otherwise forgettable 2006 low-budget comedy “Scenes Of A Sexual Nature” which had me sitting up taking notice with a full-on-sexual chemistry scene with Sophie Okenedo on Hampstead Heath.  Since then the superbly intense performances have kept coming – the title role in “Stuart: A Life Backwards”; martial arts contender in “Warrior”;violent criminal Charles Bronson; Heathcliff in “Wuthering Heights” and both the Kray twins in “Legend”.  This is a man who can turn out excellently high-octane performances – so perhaps the BBC are not taking too much of a risk.

Just because I can: (from top left) Tom Hardy, as Charles Bronson, in Scenes of A Sexual Nature, in The Take.  Bottom row – Oscar nominated in The Revenant, in Warrior

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Double Take! As the Kray Twins in Legend

When you look into it the lack of risk actually becomes apparent with this eight-parter.  It’s from an original idea by Hardy and his father who wanted to create a character for Hardy to play; an amalgamation of Bill Sikes, Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lecter, Heathcliff and Jack The Ripper and they believed they came up with the goods with Jack Delaney.  The whole thing has been a labour of love for Hardy father and son and it has taken years to get to Saturday night BBC1.  Their idea has been developed and written by Steven Knight.  Knight is also known as a film director.  In 2014 he received great acclaim for the innovative one hander “Locke” which starred Tom Hardy with just a car and a hands-free phone for company.  Hardy has enlisted Ridley Scott alongside him as Executive Producer and Danish director Kristoffer Nyholm- the man responsible for “The Killing” (a man who can certainly evoke dark and brooding) to direct the series.  On a night when BBC1 introduced light-entertainment-by-numbers show “Let It Shine” and ITV were relaunching previous BBC flagship “The Voice” (for no apparent good reason), “Taboo” felt thrillingly unpredictable.

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It’s London in 1814 and Jack Delaney (Hardy) has returned from Africa for the funeral of his father, a man with shipping interests at loggerheads with the East India Company, headed by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce).  Delaney has long been believed dead and his return is a shock, especially to his half-sister, played by Oona Chaplin (excellent in BBC2’s “The Hour”).  Delaney’s return means that he will inherit his father’s assets, including a strip of land, Nootka Sound, where Hardy’s mother lived as part of a tribe and where she was reputedly  bought by his father.  His father’s solicitor, Thoyt,(Nicholas Woodeson) does his best not to make it sound like a good proposition;

“If America were a pig facing England.  It is right at the pig’s arse.”

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Chaplin, Hardy and Pryce

The interest of the East India Company suggests otherwise and political factors make it a highly desirable piece of land.  It is certainly not in Delaney’s nature to give in graciously.  His half-sister states, “He doesn’t belong in this world” and he himself says “I’m not a fit man to be around children”.  Hardy in interviews has been comparing this character to Saddam Hussein, so there is plenty of intrigue and wrong-doings left to enjoy.

And enjoy it I did.  Taboo’s London is the visceral, gritty London of nightmares.  There’s vats of chopped meat being stirred, there’s graverobbing, seedy brothels, mud and grime and the whole thing is probably too dark and too mumbled for the Daily Mail viewer but it was really quite fascinating.  “Peaky Blinders” might come to mind (also starring Hardy) in its approach, but that was never a Saturday night BBC1 show.  It also reminded me of last year’s rather splendid adaptation of “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” which was a weekend show (Sunday nights) 0n BBC1.  I think that this has a lot of potential and however much was paid from our licence fees to Mr Hardy the BBC are sure to get their money’s worth.

fourstarsTaboo is shown on BBC1 on Saturdays at 9.15pm.  The first episode is available on catch-up on the BBC I Player.

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