The BBC series Taboo

So, Taboo has just finished, and I feel compelled to write about it, without too many spoilers in case you haven’t watched the final – or any – episode(s) yet.

Firstly, let’s get something out of the way. I’m a red-blooded heterosexual woman. Tom Hardy, in a greatcoat and a top hat, stalking through 19th century London with a grudge and an agenda and a penchant for wandering around without any pants on….

Alright, now we have paused to worship at the altar of that brooding, compelling, malevolent beauty, let’s move to the plot.

I’ve heard people say Taboo is a slow burner. I’ve heard people say not much happens in it. I beg to differ. James Delaney returns to London after many years’ absence. We learn what he’s been caught up in. We learn about the land he’s inherited and that the notorious ‘honourable’ East India Company wants it. The Crown wants it. James Delaney wants to keep it – it was his mother’s tribe’s home. Everything hinges around this piece of land on the Canadian border.

We are treated to the dark underbelly of London, the machinations of the powerful against the weak, the entitlement, misogyny and racism of white men over anyone they come across, despite their own wealth or personal circumstances.

We see the freed slave George Chichester fighting for justice for those slaves who drowned in Company ships. We see one white man’s identification with natives of both North America and Africa – and yes, James Delaney is arguably insane or alcoholic or both, and there’s a slightly worrying undercurrent that he is these things because of his identification with non-white culture, but be that as it may, I think Delaney is, despite everything, happy in who he is.

Not happy in his situation – he returned to gain vengeance and a lot of bad shit happens to him along the way – but his vengeance is for black slaves and Native American women kidnapped and forced into marriage with white men. He fights for native and tribal rights, gives voice to the voiceless. That his experiences have left him less than stable adds to his emotional vulnerability and also his need to right at least one wrong in which he was forced to play a part.

Delaney identifies with non-white culture, embraces it, in particular his Native American heritage. In a world where your skin tone, religion or behaviour could all see you knifed in the street, his dedication – or compulsion – to embrace this side of him is significant and, I think, an important allegory for the western world today.

In the Trump era, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing a white man advocating for non-white people, befriending a girl of mixed race parentage, embracing the beliefs and heritage of non-white races. In a world where #blacklivesmatter had to become a movement in the 21st century – beginning in a country that arguably never fully embraced emancipation to start with – Taboo teaches us some important lessons.

It also deals with the corruption of power, and how power corrupts. How power feeds arrogance and superiority, how greed can lead to the contemplation and execution of unspeakable acts. And, ultimately, how one man prepared to risk it all and tell the truth can change a small part of the world.

It’s a tale, ultimtely, of redemption. And justice for wrongs done. Something all of us can learn from.

 

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