Tom Hardy’s new BBC imperial drama is hitting screens on Saturday night and it couldn’t come at a better time. While we all twiddle our thumbs wondering what to do when dry January dictates we can’t drink, this dark and grimey series is here to rescue us and keep us wholly entertained for an hour of primetime.
The series sees Hardy’s character, adventurer James Delaney, return from Africa to London (despite being presumed dead) to avenge his father’s death and claim his will. Not just a few bob, his pops leaves him an island off the coast of Vancouver, which proves to be ideal for trading, as a port in the war against America and the gateway to China.
When the East India shipping company can’t convince him to give it up, Delaney is faced with multiple dangers, one of which is his own mind. According to Collider there's grave robbing, arsenic poisoning, spycraft, incest, cannibalism, and ghosts. Which explains the name Taboo.
Early reviews have described the pilot episode as a Gothic slow-burner and essentially an hour of mostly Tom Hardy, which is no bad thing.
Here’s everything else you need to know:
Tom Hardy and his dad, Chips, came up with the idea
Junior Hardy got the idea for James Delaney’s character after he played Bill Sikes in a 2007 BBC production of Oliver Twist.
“I wondered why Bill Sikes wasn’t the hero.
What if you could amalgamate Hannibal Lecter with Sherlock Holmes, Heathcliff, Marlowe from Heart of Darkness and Bill Sikes; what would that look like? If you cobbled together all the classics, and then really pushed it – a sort of Clapham Junction of multiple characters.”
Tom and Chips (who’s day job is as an advertising director and who has also written plays and TV comedy) began to develop the idea together into a short outline.
Tom Hardy made a deal with Steven Knight to write the script
This will be the third time Hardy and Knight have teamed up and the seeds for this collaboration were sewn back when Hardy’s was in Locke. According to Knight, he was looking for someone to play the role and Hardy made a deal with him – he’d be in Locke if Knight did Taboo.
Knight kept his word and production for Taboo started two years ago. In the meantime they managed to fit Peaky Blinders in, too.
Tom Hardy isn’t the only Oscar-nominee involved
Director and producer Sir Ridley Scott is the executive producer, who’s previous work includes Gladiator, Alien and The Martian amongst many others - he’s got a critically acclaimed CV longer than your leg.
The series also has two Scandi-noir directors – Kristoffer Nyholm (The Killing) and Anders Engström – which is where that Gothic darkness will be coming from.
There’s a bunch of Game of Thrones actors in it
Jonathan Pryce, who plays the High Sparrow in Westoros, plays an equally resentful to resistance character in the form of Sir Stuart Strange. As part of the hugely corrupt East India Company, he is tasked with negotiating the purchase of Nootka island from the Delaney family.
Oona Chaplin (yeah, Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter), Rob Stark’s wife who met her gruesome end at The Red Wedding, plays Delaney’s sister who had her own plans for the island before he turned up out of nowhere.
Roger Ashton-Griffiths who played Mace Tyrell (father to Margaery and Loras) in Game of Thrones, is another member of the East India Company on a mission to get Delaney to sell Nootka.
The series also features Michael Kelly (Doug from House of Cards) as Dr. Dumbarton and Essex-born spoken word artist Scroobius Pip (of Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip) who will play French Bill in his second TV role.
The series draws on real historical events and characters
Nootka island is a real place and was actually an area of contention during the early days of the USA.
Characters like the doctor are also real. In an interview with Radio 4, Steven Knight explains about a character in a later episode:
“There was a real person who was an American spy, a doctor and someone who researched the dyeing of cloth. Now, as a fiction writer you wouldn’t make that up. But take that person whole from reality and put them in the drama and see how it affects things, so that you walk into a doctors room and there’s lots of sheets hanging dyed different colours and he’s a spy...the reality is unsettling.”
Though the main characters are fictional, they are inspired by real people. Chips Hardy said:
“We looked at Richard Francis Burton, the explorer. He translated the Karma Sutra, and was a spy – a very conflicted bloke, and a kind of perverse Renaissance man. You can find that strand in Englishmen all the way back to the War of 1812.”
The time period the show takes place in was set further back than initially planned
When Steven Knight wrote the script he set it in a slightly different time than the Hardy’s had initially planned:
“For a long time I wanted to set something in 1813 or 1814 in London because it’s such a neglected period but also pivotal. Britain was at war with the United States, and at war with France, the Crown was at war with the East India Company and it was like this explosion going on in the city that was the capital of the world. I just wanted to take a character and throw that character into that explosion and see what would happen.”
Tom Hardy wanted to be naked
Tom Hardy shot the scene where he wades through water in nothing but a loin cloth (a popular image in the lead up to the premier) in Essex in freezing February – and he wanted to be naked for it:
"You're lucky there was a loin cloth because I didn't want one. It's not a period drama until someone gets naked and covers themselves in blood. At least you're showing willing.
"I was in Tilbury, in the moat, in the docks, with nothing on. We were trying to eke out drama from any opportunity and none of that makes the cut."
When is it on?
Taboo starts on BBC One on Saturday 7 January at 9.15pm. There will be eight episodes.