March 15, 2017
3 mins read
Witchdoctor Rating
  • 7/10
    Total Score - 7/10


Genre: Drama

In the first of a new series on television, ANDREW JOHNSTONE checks out the Taboo TV series.

CAPSULE COMMENT: Produced by Tom Hardy, Ridley Scott and Steven Knight and currently screening in NZ on Sky’s Soho Channel. Not perfect by any means and often frustrating with it, Taboo is nevertheless a brave undertaking with real potential if they can tighten up on the writing a bit.


James Delaney returns to London to claim his inheritance, a parcel of land in North America that is key to the lucrative North American-China trade route. He plans on making a fortune, but first he must contend with the East India Company, King George and the USA – all of whom want what he has, and badly.

Then there is the question of Delaney’s half-sister with whom he shares a son and his penchant for the black arts he learned in the African bush. Yes, they all think wacky James Delaney is going to be a pushover, but they are in for a bit of shock for despite his strangeness, Delaney is nothing if not calculating.

Set in 1814, Taboo is a period piece with overtones of Dickens on laudanum. It is a strange dream fever of a series that seeks to explore the less salubrious margins of colonialism while taking on the myth of the modern corporate CEO as the business hero. Here the series excels, dissecting the cult of the CEO and laying it out bare. If you are old enough to remember back as far as hit 1970s series The Onedin Line, imagine hard-nosed shipping tycoon James Onedin as a violent psychopath, and there you have something of what’s in store.

Written by high profile film actor Tom Hardy (Delaney) and his father Chips, this eight part series flounders a bit about the middle episodes but has enough going for it to see us through the flab. Imperfect and sometimes frustrating, Taboo is a brave undertaking with real potential if they can tighten up on the writing a bit.

Season 2 has been given the green light and will be with us sooner rather than later, and hopefully then some of the many niggly questions left lying about in the first series will be properly addressed and resolved.

A Bit About Tom Hardy

I first encountered Tom Hardy (born 1977) when I picked up a curious looking film called Bronson off the New Release shelf at my local DVD rental store back in 2008. Directed by rising Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn, Bronson was an audacious punch to the guts that astonished.

Based on the true-life story of Britain’s longest serving prison inmate Kevin Gordon Peterson aka Charles Bronson, it is an operatic and somewhat surreal production that’s a loose homage to Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. As for Hardy, he is sensational and makes a feast of this role that so impressed many, including Peterson, who was so thrilled by his pre-production meeting with Hardy that he shaved off his mustache for the actor to wear in the film. I’ve been a dedicated fan of both director and actor ever since.

Other favourite Hardy performances include Locke, The Drop and Legend. Locke is written and directed by his Taboo collaborator Stephen Knight, and takes place behind the wheel of a car speeding through a damp English night toward a meeting with destiny in London. Lit by dashboard lights, Locke is trying to salvage what he can of his unraveling life via cell-phone. He gives a nuanced, considered and humane performance; one that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

In The Drop, Hardy plays alongside James Gandolfini (in what was to be his last role) as proprietors of a small bar in Brooklyn that’s a drop point for dirty mob money. Hardy’s character Bob Saginowski seems barely with it, but as the plot unfolds and tensions come to a head, his character is revealed to be something far more than Hardy’s sublime performance at first suggests.

In Legend, Hardy takes on the dual roles of notorious London gangsters the Kray Twins, Ronnie and Reggie. This is a taut and stylish production that hangs on Hardy’s successful portrayal of two emotionally disparate sociopaths. I left the cinema in a kind of daze, thrilled at what I had just witnessed, marveling at his skills.

Hardy paid for Taboo himself, and the official accounts say he spent some $18 million on Season 1. Sales returned $14.5 million, offering up a loss of $3.5 million. Hardy has said that he expects continuing long-term sales, licensing and DVDs to eventually generate a profit. ANDREW JOHNSTONE


* The internet and ‘TV on Demand’ has revolutionised the way we watch TV shows. No longer beholden to television networks and their programming whims and scheduling, we can watch back-to-back episodes of new and old shows to our heart’s content without those annoying advertisements interrupting the narrative flow. TV viewing has suddenly become more accessible, democratic and a hell of a lot more fun. ANDREW JOHNSTONE scours the available channels and finds the best of the best, so you don’t have to.






Andrew Johnstone is Witchdoctor's Film & TV Editor. He also writes and produces music (with creative partner, legendary Waikato music producer Zed Brookes), is an avid gardener, former dairy farmer and food industry sales person. When he isn't making up stories he writes about the stories he sees on television and at the cinema. He is also fascinated by politics (the social democratic sort) and describes The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as his religion.

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