Tom Hardy, grim looking 19th Century London and Saturday night television don’t usually go together in the same sentence. The BBC has dared to mess with the weekend format and given us a bit of entertainment that’s quite different from the usual glitzy fair.
I’ve really been looking forward to this, ever since it was announced that the BBC had signed up bad boy Tom Hardy to star in a Peaky Blinders style new series I was ready.
I’m going to be honest, I loathe Saturday night television. There’s a bit too much of a ‘samey’ feel about the whole thing: quiz and talent shows, celebrities judging the common man. Lots of bright lights, shouting and banging on desks with glitter covered heels. Bless the BBC for having the guts to try something new (though perhaps their failures with The Voice had a little something to do with it; but we’ll say no more about that).
It’s 1814 and after 10 years in Africa spooky-looking James Delany (Hardy) returns to rain-soaked London to attend his father’s funeral. Opening shots of black seas and a shadowy figure cloaked in the Grim Reaper’s get-up pretty much set you up for what’s to come. This is dark stuff, and I can already hear some viewers complaining about shady shots and blurry images but stay with it, this is atmosphere building don’t you know.
As with many modern dramas, writers Steven Knight, Edward "Chips" Hardy (Tom’s father) and Emily Ballou, provide us with more questions than answers, but the intrigue is set up well: just what went down between Delany and his half-sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) before he departed England? Who’s been slowly poisoning the now deceased father? What really happened to Delany in Africa, and more importantly, how did he survive the accident that left a ship of slaves dead?
There’s an awful lot of mystery here, but I can’t help but feel there’s something of the supernatural too with Hardy skulking around the sharply cut city like a spectre of doom. “He doesn’t belong in this world", his sister tells her dull witted husband. With visions of a ghostly looking slave (complete with icy scowl and clanking chains), I’m starting to get the impression that Mr Delany may not have both feet in this realm.
There’s some history thrown in too, with the main entanglement being over the British government’s war with America and a certain piece of land Delany’s father purchased in India. The East India Company, chaired by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) had already agreed to a sale with the sister but her brother is not quite the pushover – we’ve got a smart one here lads and he realises that political wrangling and powerful ambitions are at the heart of this.
The scene with Delany taking on the men in the suits is particularly effective with a background theme seemingly built around that classic tension builder Jaws; I found myself watching with an air of ‘don’t provoke the bear’.
Did this entirely live up to my excited expectations? Well, no. It’s not quite got the dirty charm of Blinders but then we’ve only just begun and to be honest, as long as there’s no chorus line or people spinning round in chairs to give their opinion, I’ll be watching.
- Aired on BBC1, January 7 2017 at 21:15.