“Shardlake” Season 1 Review: A Promising Historical Mystery-Drama From The Tudor Period

Shardlake Season 1 Review 2024
Shardlake Season 1 Review 2024

“Shardlake” is a newly released 4-episode show on Disney+ Hotstar. The story takes place in 16th-century England. It is adapted from novels by C.J. Sansom named ‘Shardlake’ series, a historical mystery book series. It is directed by Justin Chadwick, who made “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Arthur Hughes stars as Matthew Shardlake, an intelligent lawyer, while Sean Bean plays Thomas Cromwell, an advisor to King Henry VIII. This series is all about secrets, politics, and standing up for what’s fair during the closure of monasteries.

The Story

Shardlake is a man who grapples with solitude and understands pain because of his physical impairment. They looked down on him because he had a hunchback, and therefore, he could not be a priest since they claimed that he was not made in God’s image. He is a lawyer working for Henry VIII in the company of Thomas Cromwell. When one of Cromwell’s men is killed at a monastery, Shardlake becomes embroiled in the murder. Arthur Hughes plays Shardlake alongside Anthony Boyle as Jack Barak, Cromwell’s aide. Barak wants to dismantle the monastery so as to give its riches to the King. Shardlake desires to find out who committed the crime and make them face justice. Their investigations into this matter put them at loggerheads.

The suspects are: the abbot, Brother Edwig, Brother Mortimus, and Brother Jerome, plus an unknown person wearing a hooded cloak. A novice monk named Simon Whelplay who has been ill-treated by his fellow monks might have some information about it. However, he is eventually silenced before sharing what he knows after being attacked.

Shardlake and Barak go deep into these suspects’ backgrounds, exposing their hidden motives and secrets during the course of their investigations. The rising tension as they meet opposition everywhere while also facing threats and then end up at an exciting climax would expose all that happens behind the murder scene and those dark things happening within that monastery itself.

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Directional and Technical Aspects

Justin Chadwick has created a visually immersing experience in “Shardlake.” The production design recreated 16th-century England precisely, from the splendor of Cromwell’s court to Scarnsea Abbey’s austere interiors. They have muted colors and used natural light to make it look real and authentic, as if it were happening in history.

One can see that the series’ pacing goes slowly, creating anxiety in Shardlake as he solves his puzzle. By means of various shots that reveal locations and give an impression of characters’ feelings at critical moments, the camera work is effective here. These sequences are not numerous, but when they happen, they are well choreographed and hard-hitting.

The central mystery in the series could be its weakest point. While it’s interesting as an idea and helps explore the historical setting, it lacks suspense about who the real culprit is.

Therefore, a good number of the suspects, such as monks, appear to be suspects without much reason, so determining the culprits does not provide any thrill. Even after unraveling this riddle, this problem still remains.

Nevertheless, this is a minor fault compared to all that is done right within the series, especially concerning its duration. With just four episodes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Instead, it leaves you wanting more adventures right away. This season tells a good story and also creates a universe for future stories with interesting characters and an intriguing historical background.

Actors Performance

Matthew Shardlake is played expertly by Arthur Hughes, who is a talented actor. The actor plays the character with an understated intensity and intelligence. He successfully shows how Shardlake’s physical disability contrasts with his unwavering pursuit of justice. This portrayal of the role gives Shardlake depth and makes viewers identify with him.

When it comes to intricate characters, Shardlake is the first one in the show that comes to mind. Initially, he appears to be a very good and honorable person who we can trust and support. However, the character has weaknesses, being a doubter himself and finding it difficult to integrate into the society of that era due to his physical abnormality.

All this can be seen in Hughes’s expressions throughout every scene. Although dealing with his own anxieties, he portrays Shardlake’s self-assurance as well as his intelligence. It is an excellent performance that demonstrates Hughes’ talents both on screen and stage.

A big decision in adapting the story was to introduce Shardlake’s partner, Jack Barak, earlier than in the original novel. The first book had no mention of him, but his addition creates an interesting mix in that sense. They argue so much, but they also make up for each other, leading to both dramatic and funny moments in the play.

Thomas Cromwell, played by Sean Bean, has less presence than expected. Despite this, however, with Bean’s expertise, he still manages to bring out Cromwell as a powerful and influential figure who impacts Shardlake, Barak, and England itself, among others.

He plays Cromwell in a way that portrays his cunningness and political astuteness without making him over-the-top. Furthermore, other actors like Anthony Boyle, who plays Jack Barak, and Emilia Fox, who plays Ellena, the intelligent prioress, were also excellent in their roles.

Audience Appeal

If anyone appreciates historical dramas with strong elements of mystery, then watching “Shardlake” is a good option. The series provides an insight into an intriguing epoch in the history of England, which was marked by political and religious instability during the reign of the Tudors. Those who adore Wolf Hall or Peaky Blinders are likely to be attracted to its gritty environment and complicated figures within it.

Nevertheless, individuals who like detective stories with fast-moving plots may not be keen on such aspects as the slow pacing and excessive talking involved in this work. Furthermore, the show does not escape from the violence and religious intolerance that characterized life in those times under the Tudor monarchy.

Final Thoughts

The show is historically accurate, and it has numerous details in the conversations that do not bore. It is about people who are not part of the royal court; hence, it gives a different view of that time.

Even if you are not very interested in history or already know much about it, you may still find this series enjoyable for its feeling rather than its accuracy. There is lots of gloominess in several scenes, particularly when Shardlake and Barak enter the monastery. This atmosphere is enhanced by good directions, visual artistry, and production design, making it look visually striking.

Nevertheless, despite its serious tone, this program remains entertaining as well. It also contains thoughtfulness mixed with fun, which makes it both illuminating and thrilling.

It feels genuine and nostalgic without being too sentimental. Shardlake’s talks to the audience fit well with the vibe of the show, thanks to the actor’s skills and the good writing.