'Taboo's Time Period Influences Its Very Premise

by Andrea Towers
Robert Viglasky/FX

Taboo, FX's new series starring Tom Hardy that just premiered on Jan. 10, seems to have everything viewers could want in a gritty period drama: high stakes, violent conflicts, and intriguing storytelling, with a focus on Hardy's character, James Delaney. Taboo finds Delaney returning to his hometown of London after years away in Africa. He's thought by many to be dead, so when he does return, it's with the intent of reclaiming his late father's shipping empire. But he's not exactly getting a big welcome home party: the East India Company has interest in the land, and they're not going to back down quietly, which leads to conflict. All of this relates to when Taboo is set, because the conflicts stem from the historical time period.

Taboo is specifically set in 1814 and though Hardy's character is entirely fictional — as is the story itelf — the time period in which he lives and some of the events that shape his life are absolutely real. For example, Nootka Sound, the land that Delaney is attempting to claim ownership of, is a real place. According to the Radio Times, it is an inlet off the coast of Vancouver Island that saw conflict in the 18th century.

Robert Viglasky/FX

Given that Taboo's man behind the curtain is none other than Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, it's not surprising that it's a riskier period drama. The time period sets the series on the verge of history's descent into the Regency era and Victorian Empire. “I see it as a story not about class but about commerce,” Knight told the Guardian in an interview. “The history of Britain has always been written through the prism of class, and that’s fine, but the 19th century was driven by money and this story reflects that. This is a drama about the ships and money and warehouses and docks that formed the engine of the empire.”

This theme fits with the Radio Times' description of the real Nootka Sound, though the article explains that the area had actually undergone a number of conflicts before 1814. Despite this historical quibble, however, Taboo will make full use of its historical setting. As the Los Angeles Times noted in its review, there are storylines that deal with the War of 1812, the slave trade, shipping companies, and more situations unique to the time period. We'll have to wait and see what other historical elements Taboo brings into its first season as James Delancey's story continues.