Tom Hardy, perhaps the only man on earth who can make disinterring a corpse seem powerfully attractive, is disinterring a corpse. It's dark, the rain is pouring and the wind howling and the mud plastered to everything, and we're off and running into Taboo.

It's a truly bizarre eight-part series Hardy wrote and produced with his father Edward Hardy (yes, Tom's father is named Ed Hardy and that does accurate describe Taboo's visual aesthetic) and Steven Knight, one of the creators of Who wants to be a millionaire?

The corpse Hardy's character is disinterring is that of his recently deceased father, who has left him a desolate plot of land in America. It's the early 1800s and the US and Britain are at war, and that plot of land, "just rocks and Indians", also happens to be incredibly important from both a strategic and business perspective.

Hardy plays James Keziah Delaney, a ferociously handsome, deeply wild merchant-soldier who disappeared, presumed drowned, in Africa some years before. When his father dies in mysterious circumstances, Delaney Jr returns to London to stake his claim to this distant land.


This is deeply inconvenient to the senior executive of the East India Company, a then-dominant conglomerate which made Amazon look like The Warehouse and at one time accounted for fully half the world's trade and had its own private armies. Delaney was one of their own, a kind of 19th century Jack Reacher, "exceptional" at everything before he disappeared off into the jungle.

This is essentially the stage as set - a battle between one very tough and very strong and very handsome man and the biggest business the world has ever known.

There are tangled subplots too: most notably the one in which Tom Hardy is in love with his half-sister, which seems a bit yuck, even for the olden days. But mainly it's man versus the corporate machine.

It gets off to a clunky start, lots of the dialogue strives for the hammer - "You look the same," says one old chap to Hardy. "I'm not" he replies moodily - but the profundity it aspires to is beyond the as-yet-unformed characters' grasp.

Likewise, the staging of the thing feels deeply stylised by comparison to the more restrained likes of Wolf Hall. Hardy wears a bowler hat and dresses all in black and sports a steampunk goatee. The effect is curiously late-'90s, as if the reference board was mainly stills from The Matrix and a couple of early Marilyn Manson videos.

A brothel owner squatting in his dad's former offices offers "whatever you like - boys, girls, suck, f***", while a chap implies Hardy's character was prone to the odd bout of necrophilia in Africa. It's a little much, you know?

Yet, as the episode winds on it also winds up. There's an excellent scene in which the East India Company attempts to wrest control of the land from Hardy, at first by cajoling, latterly by undisguised threats.

It's one monstrous man with little to live for and an iron will turning to face a vast, unimaginably powerful organisation to avenge his father's ill-treatment at their hands.

Definitely a hilarious and lead-handed conceit for a story conjured with your father - yet thanks to the brooding charisma of Hardy and the scale of the battle he faces, Taboo possesses a pulpy magnetism which cannot be denied.

Taboo airs on SoHo at 8.30pm.