Sunday, February 12, 2017

Taboo (UK) - first impression

Well, color me impressed. And here the whole short introduction could end.

The series so far (5 episodes) has a very complicated dynamic, more so because it's rather pulsating under the dirty skin than exploding in a whirlpool of constant action. It relies on games and they are perfectly executed by the wonderful cast. I won't even comment on Tom Hardy, because the man turns everything he touches into a diamond by the sheer pressure and force of his talent. But we also have Jonathan Price - in a coldly scary role, and he lulled us with some of his recent roles into thinking of him as a funny and clumsy grandpa. He shatters this image with ease with one word and facial expression that can freeze his smile into one, malicious mask of unforgiveness and viciousness.

The visuals are gorgeous and detailed, for which I am not sure whether I'm grateful or not (thank you, sir Ridley Scott, I guess). There is a trend in recent TV shows to show the reality of the past in the most truthful way - and it shows here. England A.D. 1814 is a brutally dirty place. And yet, somehow, the show works in a subversive way - because for me, the aristocracy, politicians and ministers, with their high fashion clothes and gilded sofas are even more repulsive than constantly muddied, bloodied, soiled people from the bottom of the social strata. The dirt can be washed away (apparently no one thought of it here, but whatever), but the stuffed up, amoral, inner pollution of the upper class pours out with every pore (or blister).

The show tells the story about the fictional conflict, although it's based on real events, only taking place earlier, in 18th century. The scrap of land, Nootka Sound is real, it is a place on the Vancouver Island and from what I read it is a safe port for ships. More - it was a central point in so called Nootka Crisis between Spain and Britain. In the show, Nootka Sound is a central point of, let's be frank, an open war between East India Trading Company (otherwise known as the Britain) and James Keziah Delaney, who inherited this part of the land after his father's death. East India Trading Company has the shape and mind of Jonathan Price playing sir Stuart Strange, who initially labelled James as the savage imbecile, but quickly realized his horrible mistake. Savage he may be, but he's incredibly resourceful and organized. However with his mindset, I don't see a happy ending for him.

You know, I read a story once about the young man seeking to look into upon the face of the Truth. The Truth was hidden behind countless layers of fabric and this man removed one veil after veil each year. Time has passed and with every removed layer he could see light brighter and brighter, coming from the figure of the Truth. And one day, when he was an old man, one veil remained so he, squinting his eyes from the light, tore off the last veil but the light has blinded him and he never saw the true form of the Truth. I feel the same with this show - with each episode we get another glimpse closer and closer into the heart and mind of our characters, especially James. And I can faintly perceive the shape I don't quite like. I mean, I don't think he was created to be a likeable character, but there is a strange pull and I want to know more. About the slave ship with him on board that has sunken close to African shore. About his tribal tattoos, his scars, the bird, about his visions that are tearing his mind apart. He is a fascinating character despite the fact he can make some spiteful, vengeful and morally questionable things.

More pictures of Nootka Sound: here
There is also one important point to make - the show deals with British colonialism in all of its hideous forms. James Delaney is a liminal person (thank you, Victor Turner), living between worlds - his mother was a member of Nootka tribe, father was an English lord, and he himself is an entity that encompasses every race, belief, morals, or tradition. In an ideal society, he would be a poster boy for a complete indifference towards everything that separates and differentiates our society. But the world has warped him in a terrible way and he is a product of the scoliotic merging of different worlds - a person who belongs everywhere and at the same time doesn't belong anywhere.

The show is dark, gritty and dirty. It's not Jane Austen version of society. It's dog-eat-dog world where not even the strongest survive. Only scavengers. And putrefactive bacteria.

Two trailers because one is not enough: