Taboo (2017) is a TV drama series developed by and starring (my boyfriend) Tom Hardy, now airing on F/X in the US and BBC in the UK. The basic premise is that it’s 1814 and James Delaney (Hardy) has just returned from 14 years adventuring abroad — first with the East India Company, then in Africa — at the death of his merchant father. Everyone thought he was dead, including his half-sister, but he’s back to inherit. The plot thickens because 1. Delaney is semi-crazy from his years abroad, and 2. part of his inheritance is a disputed piece of territory around Vancouver (in what will be Canada) during the war of 1812, and three powerful entities (the East India Company, the British government, and the American government) are willing to be ruthless to get it.
With that out of the way, my top 5 reasons I’m conflicted about Taboo:
5. Some wrestling with racism/colonialism
I’m always happy when any historical show remembers that not only did people of color exist, but that racism and colonialism were huge portions of Western life for centuries.
Pro: This show is part of the recent trend to really depict people of color as existing shoulder-to-shoulder with whites in British history, which is great; plus there (so far) is at least one minor, speaking-role character who is of mixed race.
Pro: Delaney has lots of crazytown flashbacks to the slave ship he was on that show how traumatized he was being exposed to slavery, as well as flashbacks to various indigenous people he appears to have interacted with.
Con: Most of the flashbacks are arty and quick, and so far we haven’t really gotten into any of Delaney’s history or time in non-European lands very clearly.
4. Gender issues
Pro: Some very interesting female characters, particularly…
Pro: Plus there’s a depiction of a molly house, a brothel of male prostitutes, which you don’t see every day!
Con: The boys are badass (especially Delaney, who apparently can kick everyone’s ass), the women are there to be screwed or raped. That’s not to say Zilpha, Lorna, and Helga don’t have strength and brains, but each one has already been in at least one (if not more) squicky sex-receptacle position.
3. Costumes by Joanna Eatwell
Pro: Eatwell knows her stuff — she costumed Wolf Hall, which is one of the better looks we’ve seen at the Tudor era on screen.
Pro: They’re doing Regency well, from what I can tell given the low lighting and general filth (we’ll come back to that). I mostly like the visual characterizations, which are working well with the story.
Con: Eatwell costumed The Paradise, which was clunky.
Con: Zzzzz, it’s darkly colored, darkly lit Regency.
Con: Brothel-owner Helga is TEAM WTF with oodles of GREEN EYESHADOW and a SEPTUM PIERCING. I SHIT YOU NOT.
Con: Why are the molly-house prostitutes dressed in 30-years-out-of-date 1770s-80s wear?
2. It’s going for gritty
Pro: It’s always interesting to see the poor, dark side of life, and this show is embracing the mud, and dirt, and general poverty. Lots of shots of the London docklands, and poor people being poor, and they’ve done it WELL. Also, there’s a lot of violence — it’s not quite meat cleavers in people’s heads à la Gangs of New York, but it’s no Austen novel.
Pro: Helga literally gets her weave snatched!
Con: One of the reasons I would like to time travel is to see if it was really as filthy as shows like this like to make it seem.
Also, since they’re going for the mud & pigs aesthetic, I ding them for not having shown any pigs on screen.
Con: They’re showing the East India Company as being super evil and all-powerful, which may not be that accurate (see this article at The Telegraph).
Con: Their depiction of the Prince Regent is over-the-top gross.
And, one Hardy-related issue which I’ll tackle in #1:
1. Tom Hardy
Pro: He’s my boyfriend and I loves him.
Pro: And, he gets nekkid in this, although we haven’t seen any peen yet (oh please oh please).
Con: Most of the nekkid is not flattering nekkid.
Con: He’s really fucking filthy most of the time, which is killing my ladyboner.
Have you watched Taboo yet? What’s your take?