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Home / TV / Taboo review: Tom Hardy brings a grimy, grisly tale of heist, incest and a bit of voodoo

Taboo review: Tom Hardy brings a grimy, grisly tale of heist, incest and a bit of voodoo

Taboo review: The season finale for Tom Hardy’s show made for an explosive watch. A few blemishes here and there shouldn’t keep you away from it.

tv Updated: Dec 08, 2017 16:47 IST
Soumya Srivastava
Soumya Srivastava
Hindustan Times
Taboo, Tom Hardy’s ambitious historical fiction show deserves your attention.
Taboo, Tom Hardy’s ambitious historical fiction show deserves your attention.

Kristoffer Nyholm, Anders Engström
Tom Hardy, Oona Chaplin, Tom Hollander, Jonathan Pryce, Mark Gatiss

Late by almost a year, Tom Hardy’s Taboo finally made its way to the Indian shores in October. We wonder why it took so long considering the fan following he enjoys in the country after Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and Mad Max; the fact that it has next to no nudity and set in 1814, it mirrors the hatred we have for our former colonial masters.

With an explosive (literally) finale closing the season on Thursday and re-runs just around the corner, it is as perfect a time as any to talk about this weird little show that reminds you ever so much of the emo cousin who went to live in London for a week and never returned the same. Hardy’s passion project,which he co-wrote with his father, may have not gained the faith of many earlier this year but it has surely given me more reasons to accept this kohl-eyed boy who is only ever seen in black.


Taboo is set in London of the early 19th century, you know, only the filthiest, most depressing time or place to be in. The crying babies covered in soot, men perennially mourning the loss of a better life in their black robes, the river of blood from the slaughterhouses mixing with the sludge in the street and the yellow that rests on the rotting teeth of a prostitute as it does on a bloated prince’s, more horrible scenes are rare to come by. To such a land, has James Keziah Delaney (Hardy) returned. Thought dead for a decade, he turns up at his father’s funeral, a hooded figure in a boat, like the ferryman returning from hell.

After he collects his two coins from the eyes of the dead, he learns his father has left him a strip of land in the United States of America that holds the key to winning the war for Americans and the British and also the East India Company. Delaney, with his superhuman wit, some African voodoo he picked up during his unpleasant travels abroad and a bag full of diamonds, dodges all three.


The show could have been about a heist but Hardy’s character carries a baggage so heavy, it is difficult not to be curious about what lies under the surface. He gets visions of his mother floating in a pond, calling out to him and drowning him, he can look inside the minds of people who betray him and makes love to his half-sister without even being in the same bed. The curiosity goes unsatisfied when the show reveals nothing about it. However, the tussle between the company and the crown to outwit each other even as they hunt Delaney, keeps you too occupied to wonder how he has sex with his sister.

Another reason why the supernatural doesn’t seem too harsh in a historical drama is Hardy’s performance. The camera rarely, if ever, goes off his brooding face as he slices open people’s legs, makes violent threats and gets angry in the same tone as he shows affection for people. This may be the most I have ever seen him speak and he should maybe try that more often.


Even with Hardy, quite narcissistically taking over almost all the scenes, it is actors such as Jonathan Pryce as the impatient head of the East India Company, David Hayman as the Alfred to Hardy’s Batman, Mark Gatiss as the Prince Regent in a fat suit, Tom Hollander as the lady-loving chemist and Jessie Buckley as his too-good-for-this-world stepmother make Taboo look sane. When they are in the frame, the show appears to be about humans rather than hunks brooding in a distance, chopping up a few bodies on the side.


Therefore, Oona Chaplin’s performance stuck out like a sore thumb. After a point, the show doesn’t know what to do with the incestuous angle with the sister. Her story is ended so harshly and without a proper farewell that it almost seems cruel to the actor herself. Unlike us, Hardy sheds a tear for her but like us, he doesn’t care about it a minute later.

In its essence, Taboo is a revenge drama but the revenge part of it comes so late into the season that it hops from being a supernatural tale to a Gothic horror to a con drama to a heist movie to a romantic tragedy. In all its versions, it does a stellar job of bringing together an entertaining historical fiction. There is the incest and gore from Game of Thrones, making illegal substances in a makeshift lab like Breaking Bad, a jealous, abusive husband of Big Little Lies, the filthy streets of Perfume and quite shockingly, the background score of Interstellar.

For not giving up on historical dramas, even if not perfecting the genre, Tom Hardy’s Taboo deserves your attention. Give it some.