A joint creation of Peaky Blinders writer Steven Knight, legendary British film director Ridley Scott, the Oscar-nominated actor Tom Hardy and Hardy’s father, writer Chips Hardy, Taboo is a dark take on the eternal theme of the prodigal son, set in a sinister and rapacious late Georgian London. It’s a bold post-watershed drama to freshen up Saturday nights.
Hardy, who played Alfie Solomons in Peaky Blinders, is James Delaney. Long thought to be lost in Africa he returns, apparently from the grave, on the death of his own father in 1814 to claim his inheritance – an island off the west coast of the Americas. Delaney, we’re led to believe, carries the burden of terrible deeds done and, in Hardy’s typically intense performance, seems perpetually on the edge of madness.
“Tom always walks that tightrope,” says Knight of the actor. “He’s not going to turn up and do a naturalistic interpretation. You feel that there is a capped volcano, and the volcano does erupt eventually.
Against Delany are arrayed the family who expected the inheritance themselves and the East India Company – led by a particularly villainous Jonathan Pryce – who want the island even more and are prepared to go to any ends to get it.
Having Scott, director of Blade Runner and Gladiator, among many others, on the credits guarantees attention. “He’s brilliant,” says Knight. “He has nothing to prove to anyone yet he chose to get involved with Taboo.” Scott’s presence also imparts a certain attention to the drama’s production values and, under director Kristoffer Nyholm (The Killing), London is a sinister wasteland wreathed in mist in which the characters scheme and seethe.
“Peaky Blinders was about working-class criminals,” says Knight. “But Taboo is about self-interest. Forget class, everyone from the King down is after the money, but amongst all that there is goodness and there is kindness.”
Taboo begins on Saturday at 9:15pm on BBC1