Top 5 Reasons I’m Conflicted About Taboo

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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.

Winter (that’s her name) is a London urchin of interesting background who seems poised to be important… soon.

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.

Taboo (2017)

I think this is mom, but this is kind of thing we’re seeing in these flashback visions.

 

4. Gender issues

Pro: Some very interesting female characters, particularly…

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Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley, Princess Marya from the 2016 War & Peace), an actress who stakes a claim to Delaney’s inheritance and has definite self-esteem and resourcefulness…

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and Helga (Franka Potente), a brothel owner who is clearly strong and resourceful.

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Oona Chaplin (Game of Thrones) is Zilpha, Delaney’s half-sister, and she gets on my nerves, but I haven’t yet put my finger on why other than that she’s pinched and beaky.

Pro: Plus there’s a depiction of a molly house, a brothel of male prostitutes, which you don’t see every day!

Taboo (2017) Taboo (2017) Taboo (2017)

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.

Taboo (2017)

Lorna is potentially about to get raped here. Yay?

 

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.

Taboo (2017)

Mourning wear for dad’s funeral.

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Lorna the actress shows up all peacock-y.

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That, my friends, is what a Regency corset SHOULD look like and… HAND-BOUND EYELETS. THANK YOU.

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Actress Lorna on stage.

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More stage costumes.

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Great silhouette with all those feathers!

Con: Eatwell costumed The Paradise, which was clunky.

Con: Zzzzz, it’s darkly colored, darkly lit Regency.

Nice, I guess?

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Can’t really see much…

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Sparkly?

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Sure whatever…

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I lightened this image for you. You’re welcome.

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I like this tassel-y thing on her head, just wish I could see it!

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It’s a guy in clothes?

Con: Brothel-owner Helga is TEAM WTF with oodles of GREEN EYESHADOW and a SEPTUM PIERCING. I SHIT YOU NOT.

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There’s a definite Burning Man aesthetic here.

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Did someone escape from the set of Vikings?

Con: Why are the molly-house prostitutes dressed in 30-years-out-of-date 1770s-80s wear?

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An extra behind the scenes.

 

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.

Thameside muck!

Pro: Helga literally gets her weave snatched!

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Delaney is holding Helga’s wig, which he just grabbed off her head.

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.

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Also, since they’re going for the mud & pigs aesthetic, I ding them for not having shown any pigs on screen.

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Wait, I just remembered this hilarious pig-head-wearing partygoer… I guess they do have pigs!

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).

Although you do get to watch Jonathan Pryce respond to a knock on his office door with “Fuck Off,” which is always a bonus.

Con: Their depiction of the Prince Regent is over-the-top gross.

Taboo (2017)

They got that he was overweight and sparkly…

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But what’s up with his skin??!!

And, one Hardy-related issue which I’ll tackle in #1:

 

1. Tom Hardy

Pro: He’s my boyfriend and I loves him.

Taboo (2017) Taboo (2017) Taboo (2017)

Pro: And, he gets nekkid in this, although we haven’t seen any peen yet (oh please oh please).

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Con: Most of the nekkid is not flattering nekkid.

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Delaney is not a fan of pants. Thankfully there have been no Backwards Balls Shots.

Con: He’s really fucking filthy most of the time, which is killing my ladyboner.

Taboo (2017)

Come on Delaney, scrub up so Auntie Kendra can love you the way she used to!

 

 

Have you watched Taboo yet? What’s your take?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

44 Responses

  1. Broughps

    You have more endurance that I do, I gave up after the first ep. So tired of dark and dirty.

    Reply
  2. Tamara

    This looks awful. I’m so glad I didn’t watch. You should look into when the meaning of the F word changed to general cursing. Gentleman’s Daughter says in the late eighteenth century it only meant sex. It’s this kind of show I think would be so hard to costume. If the general direction is inaccurate, why get the costumes right? That’s how I feel.

    Reply
  3. Susan Pola

    Will have to wait to see it when Netflix releases DVD.
    WTF with the nasal piercing? Didn’t think it was period, except for Indian culture at time. Also not a fan of tattoos.

    Reply
  4. themodernmantuamaker

    Oh jeez, what did they do to Georgie!? And I thought he looked a little familiar – at first I thought he was the actor who played Wickham in the 1995 P&P but looked him up and it’s Mark Gatiss!

    And I could barely recognize Tom Hardy at first in these photos, such a pity!

    I’m mildly curious about this one and ….whatever that one that seems to be about the Hudson’s Bay Company is …”Frontier”? because of depictions of early Canada, even if it’s not billed that way. But…..I dunno.

    Reply
  5. Marie McGowan Irving

    The Regency costumes on the women look pretty good to me – the party scene with the woman cross dressed as Lord Byron in full Turkish regalia was brilliant, and I will admit to a squee at the Regency corset. And I agree about that feathery hat!

    I think Zilpha annoys me because she’s so passive. Everything happens to her. She rarely seems to take action on her own and when you’ve got the other female characters being resourceful and smart it’s painfully obvious that she’s not.

    The mother’s costume in flashback looks less First Nations and more “This is what Etsy puked up when I put ‘black feathery’ in the search bar.”

    I agree about the filth. There was probably grime and definitely poverty, and it’s good to see the Mudlarks and dock workers rather than a bunch of pretty ladies wearing artfully draped white dresses. But I think they’ve overdone it :/

    The plot is tosh, of course. The EIC wasn’t anything like portrayed, the Nootka Sound stuff is beyond silly, and the notion that Tom Hardy’s mother was a First Nations woman isn’t really working for me. But at least it’s entertaining tosh, so far :)

    Reply
  6. Sarah Lorraine

    Proof that not all of us here at Frock Flicks are in lockstep with one another: I do not understand the Tom Hardy thing AT ALL.

    He looks like he’s carrying at least seven different types of venerial diseases.

    Also, Kendra, I hate to break it to you, but he’s only 5’9.

    Reply
  7. mmcquown

    I grant you, it’s dark — especially on my TV screen — and it’s dirty, but the story really grabbed me. NOT a time I would care to visit, let alone live in. But the costuming does seem to be right on the mark. Curious to see where it’s going, or whether it even stays, as I think this isn’t going to be everybody’s dish of tea.

    Reply
  8. Miri

    I tried the first episode, but apart from the grim gritty grime aesthetic, which I’m more than a bit sick off, the whole awful setup with a white dude playing a mixed race character and the show trying to explore themes of racism with him in the forefront… it’s awfully tone deaf at best. Not even talking about the decade adventuring in an unspecified Africa and having come back with some tribal tattoos and shit… again all portrayed by a white actor. Nah.

    Reply
  9. Susan Pola

    Why didn’t they stay with India? The EIC there was actually somewhat villainous. Making their Indian soldiers use weapons, guns, greased with pork & cow fat. Something no religious Hindu or Moslem would use. It was a primary cause of the 1850s Sepoy Mutiny.

    Reply
    • Marie McGowan Irving

      Actually, they didn’t. But the rebellion spread gossip that they did to start the mutiny. It just shows that gossip can persist, even 160+ years later!

      Reply
  10. Susan Pola

    PS I’m going back to looking at beautiful things – Tiffany Favrile Glass and Jewellery – The Met has an awesome collection.

    Reply
  11. Sharon

    Usually this thing is right up my street, but I gave up after the first episode for the same reasons as everybody else, unrelenting dark, brooding murk, both physical and emotional. Sometimes I find it can be helpful to watch something like this with the subtitles on and the sound turned off…………..I managed about 5 minutes of the second episode and admitted defeat, and Tom Hardy wasn’t doing it for me on any level.

    Reply
  12. Charity

    It’s almost like Tom Hardy drew up a list of “taboo” topics to address in the costume drama, then threw them all into one series — incest, check, cross-dressing, check, gutting someone, check…

    The costumes are fun, but so far the back history is hazy and you’re right, the entire thing is dark. I had to laugh at Mark Gatiss as the prince… far cry from his dignified Mycroft Holmes. Ah well, at least he’s having fun. (Fun fact: this role is currently his profile pic on Twitter apparently, which cracks me up. Guess his ego isn’t bruised at having bad skin! ;)

    Reply
  13. MoHub

    I’m thinking the excessive dirt and darkness are this decade’s version of past films and series dressing everyone in brown and living in brown environs as if old sepia photos were actually in color.

    And this is why you have to do a feature on Murdoch Mysteries. If nothing else, the series shows turn-of-the-twentieth-century people wearing actual colors and living in colorful surroundings.

    Reply
    • Susan Pola

      I’ll second the Murdoch request. BTW Yannick Bisson is a hunk. I’m definitely team Jilliam. Back to the Tiffany

      Reply
    • Shawna

      Unfortunately Murdoch was on FF’s article on shows that have such boring costumes that there is no point in doing a review. :'( It’s my fav tv show but I don’t think we’ll be seeing it here any time soon!

      Reply
  14. Kathleen Norvell

    I’ve only watched the first episode so far, but have recorded the rest of them. Dark, dirty, too many tattoos (still don’t like tattoos). And I don’t get Tom Hardy either. He looks like a thug to me, no matter what role he plays. Certainly not attractive in this role. He’s supposedly a gentleman, or knows what a gentleman is, but he’s always dirty and disheveled. Sure doesn’t make a good impression.

    Zilpha is — off, somehow. She creeps me out. But it’s always a treat to see Jonathan Pryce.

    I was offput by the piercings and awful hair. I can’t comment on the costumes yet because I haven’t seen many of them. More after I watch the rest of the episodes.

    Reply
  15. picasso Manu

    Oh, another rape-o-matic? Pass.
    And it looks very depressing.

    On the other hand, it’s nice to see pigs are coming up in life: He looks very spiffy!

    Reply
  16. Karen K.

    I wasn’t sure about this one but the septum piercing was the last straw. Franka Potente deserves better.

    Reply
  17. ladylavinia1932

    I don’t think there was anything wonderful about the East India Company. It was based on greed, conquest and yes, even slavery,

    By the way, Franka Potente is portraying another brothel owner?

    Their depiction of the Prince Regent is over-the-top gross.

    I thought he was pretty much a gross kind of guy by the Regency period.

    Reply
  18. Lynne Connolly

    It’s the highlight of my week. We’re watching in the UK, and we don’t have any problem with the darkness. it’s more chiaroscuro, but we can see fine. Maybe they have different TV standards or something, I don’t know.
    The story is brilliant. The EIC was a bit wild, the Empire without any limitations, and Jonathan Pryce is enjoying the hell out of his part. And Nootka Sound is historically important. A crisis occurred there in the 1780s between Britain and Spain, who both claimed sovreignty and the right to claim it. It was strategically vital. There was a treaty trying to settle the matter in 1819, and it had a direct effect on the settling of the border between Canada and the USA. At least this series made me look that bit up!
    This is a roll call of BBC notables. I keep squeeing when someone new turns up. Andrew Scott last week, and Toby Jones as well.
    But I’m a huge fan of Stephen Knight’s other series, “Peaky Blinders,” so I was ready for heightened reality and a lot of violence. I think the women are being treated as women were at that time. I do like that some of them are fighting back. I do wish Zilpha would do a bit more. And all her clothes belong to me. I call dibs

    Reply
  19. Hugh

    Not my idea of Regency. Clothing is far too dark and late Victorian, albeit cut to Regency styles. And the tattoos.

    Oh well, I put up with Josh Donaldson (AL MVP 2015) guest starring in Vikings in a man bun and tattoos. So my standards are dubious as well, I suppose. But Josh hit over 120 RBI’s in 2015. So there.

    Reply
  20. Kelly

    I love Tom Hardy but it’s pretty messed up that yet again a white person got a nonwhite part. (He’s supposed to be half native American)

    Reply
  21. mmcquown

    Movies and TV shows are pretend; they’re not real life. If the industry had to cast every actor according to the race or ethnicity of a character, a lot of stories would never have been made. By Kelly’s standards, only a Martian could play a Martian. Personally, I would like to see both Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan played by Asian actors — and done right — but it probably never will happen.

    Reply
    • Saraquill

      That’s the kind of rhetoric that justifies erasing people like myself.

      It also denies the existence of actors of color, who have a miserable time finding work that isn’t “wise janitor,” “redshirt criminal,” or “oppressed person who’s onscreen for five minutes to give the white protagonist life lessons.” The TV and movie industries won’t spontaneously combust if there’s more PoC casting

      As for movies not being real life, it’s a massive blow to the soul to constantly see white faces on the screen, white people pretending to be PoC, white white white. The message is sends is that people like me have no value, an idea that must be fought tooth and nail.

      Reply
      • mmcquown

        Not what I said and not what I meant. I think there are enough actors of colour out there to refute your claim. I don’t think Danny Glover, Morgan Freeman and many other employable, bankable actors out there would see it that way. Yes, there has been discrimination in the industry, and it’s not perfect, but it’s better than it was and will, I hope, continue to be so. Television has been better in that regard than feature film. But back to your original point: while there may be many good mixed-race actors out there, I don’t know of any offhand who have the boxoffice draw of Tom Hardy. When I was doing “Royal Hunt of the Sun” in Atlanta, should I not have been allowed to play an Inca because I’m not one?

        Reply
  22. CatnipTARDIS

    Although soap had been around for millennia, it was still heavily taxed in 1814 as a luxury item. Delaney would obviously have the means to fit a few bars into his budget, but the masses certainly wouldn’t always have a bar on hand, and certainly not for use after every single pee break.

    After suffering through Comcast’s compression during the pilot, we’ve been watching pristine 1080 rips which do the dark aesthetic justice. It certainly helps to define the subtle differences in color and texture that gets lost in a giant charcoal-blue blob via cable.

    In 1814 George was FAT. I love Hugh Laurie in Blackadder, but Mark Gatiss in that fat suit is far more accurate. George ate and drank himself through his allowances, contributing to all sorts of health problems. If Geroge III did in fact have porphyria and Prince George inherited it, that by itself easily explains his rash-laden skin.

    I love Franka Potente, but her whole everything is too much. She may be a 2-bit madam, but she is still a madam. At least pin up the (fake) hair!

    The one thing that really gripes me is Lorna Bow’s claim to the land. Yes, she could contest the will and get a share of the estate’s money, but she would have had no claim on the land as she is of no blood relation. Upon Delaney’s death, if the land were not bequeathed in Delaney’s will, the land would go to his next of kin. That would be his supersekrit son, then his half-sister. If every other blood relation were dead without bequeathing the land to someone, it would go to the government; Lorna would have to prove she’s a distant cousin (and everybody in between is dead) or suck it up.

    Reply
  23. Aimee Thomason

    I can’t watch it because of the F bombs. It’s not the word itself that offends me, but the anachronism. Fuck was not used in that way until after the 20th century world wars.

    Reply
    • Lynne Connolly

      Funnily enough, I don’t mind it. I should, but it fits well with the characters. Using the curse words in use then would just make them sound quaint.

      Reply
  24. Annie B

    Not my favorite show ever, BUT an action-y show set in a historical time period is about the only time my husband and I find something we both want to watch on tv… so I’m game haha. I think it’s all a bit cliched and over the top, like, oh right, there goes another main character who is the only person who sees that slavery is bad, blah blah blah… but oh well! I’m glad husband will watch with me, and I love seeing another angle (re: the docks, etc) on historical time periods.

    I love how period shows/movies can transport you to another time, and I’d argue this does a decent job of it.

    Reply

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