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Shardlake Stars Anthony Boyle and Arthur Hughes Discuss Hulu’s Historical Drama

Shardlake Stars Anthony Boyle and Arthur Hughes Discuss Hulu's Historical Drama

A mysterious murder in a monastery starring Arthur Hughes and Anthony Boyle (Masters of the Air)? Where do we sign up? The two actors headline Shardlake, which hits Hulu on May 1. Based on the popular Tudor murder mystery novels by C.J. Sansom, the four-part outing promises to have all the thrills fans of rousing and suspenseful historical dramas love, plus plenty of deceit and intrigue.

Set in 16th century England during the dissolution of the monasteries in the Tudor era, the limited series tracks lawyer Matthew Shardlake (Hughes), who is sent by Thomas Cromwell (Sean Bean of Game of Thrones) on behalf of Henry VIII to investigate the death of a commissioner in a remote town of Scarnsea. He must bring along an unlikely partner, however — Jack Barak, who’s cocky, self-assured, and perhaps Cromwell’s spy.

Shardlake boasts strong loyalty to the Crown, but he’s frowned upon because of his appearance as a person living with a physical disability. Arthur Hughes and Anthony Boyle unpack the story in this exclusive MovieWeb interview, touching upon the representation of characters with disabilities, starring in historical dramas, and other streaming fodder. Dive in.

Arthur Hughes on Characters with Disabilities

Shardlake is written by Stephen Butchard (The Good Mothers) and also stars Babou Ceesay, Paul Kaye, Ruby Ashbourne Serkis, Peter Firth, Matthew Steer, and Kimberley Nixon. From the get-go, the clock is ticking for Shardlake and Barak, who must uncover the truth about a horrific murder or face the wrath of Henry VIII’s loyal aid.

As a character, Shardlake stands out for his verve, sure, but he is also a character with a disability, which audiences don’t often see headlining a series. In the original source material, Shardlake was referred to as a “hunchback.” In truth, the character was living with scoliosis during the Tudor period. We asked Hughes, who was born with radial dysplasia, which affects the forearm bones, how his own real-life experiences helped inform how he played Shardlake, to which he shared:

“Being a disabled man myself, when I grew up, I used to hide this [right] arm in my pocket quite a lot and it bent me over… this was what I thought about for Shardlake’s

physicality, and the thing I based physically on how you would look.
I think being disabled in society means certain things about how you’re perceived, your sense of justice, how you navigate the world
. It’s very different, too, if you’re not, and these were all things that I really related to with how Shardlake navigates the world.”

He also noted that Shardlake is a proud, successful, and good man, adding, “And I like to think I’m a good man. I try to live my life by those principles. He’s probably a bit more stubborn and stoic than I am… lonelier, and he’s maybe a bit more, I don’t know, curmudgeonly, cantankerous. He’s perceived as weak, but actually very strong… mentally very quick… flustered, but he can also be very clear. That’s the kind of complexity that was so lovely to play.”

Does Anthony Boyle Love to Play Historical Figures?

Is it chance or destiny that Anthony Boyle has starred in several stellar historical dramas? From Tolkien and Masters of the Air to Manhunt and Shardlake. We had to ask him if he’s a history buff or just loves starring in historical dramas. “Not really,” he shared. “I think I’ve just got a quite generic white face that, if you squint enough, I look like many historical figures. I don’t think it’s a burning passion of mine. I just think it’s… if the shoe fits.”


Best Historical TV Shows of All Time, Ranked

Television gives ample room to breathe for many historical dramas, allowing them space to tell gripping, real-life stories we need to remember.

In Shardlake, Boyle’s John Barak must accompany our beleaguered lawyer to probe a shocking death, but big twists and some jump-seat shocks ensue. The duo is a captivating pair, making this period piece all the more enjoyable to watch. Boyle and Hughes also have great on-screen chemistry, playing two people who wouldn’t necessarily ever collaborate on anything were it not but the twist of fate in which they find themselves.

“Good writers and directors are often drawn to historical pieces,” Boyle added of the series. “You’ve got to have a bit of weight under your belt as a director or a writer to tackle this sort of thing. I’m attracted to working with good people. And often, it seems that they’re doing these sorts of dramas. I like the high stakes of these period dramas. They seem [to go] very right to the depth.”

Hughes and Boyle on What Sparked Their Acting Careers

Since we’ve turned back time here, it’s fitting to look back to the past. We wanted to know who, if anybody, truly rooted Hughes and Boyle on, and encouraged them to pursue acting. “I used to attend a drama youth club from the ages of 7 to 10,” Hughes shared. “The guy who ran that club was called Chris Amos. He sadly died now, but he would inspire… this kind of ‘follow me’ element. He made acting so much fun but took it so seriously, even at that young age. [He] was like, ‘Always come with me to this world.’ And I found him to be one of the most incredible and inspiring people to make me want to follow him to whatever play we were doing.”

And I look for that in actors and directors I work with now… that sense of ‘follow me,’ who believe in it so much… knowing that I trust someone enough to follow them to where we’re going to go. I think I thank Chris for that.


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From hairdressing to teaching, these are eight actors whose previous professions had absolutely nothing to do with acting.

As for Boyle, he immediately points to Hughes as his inspiration — “This bloody guy right here, yeah?” he said. “There were a couple of people when you’re younger who see you’ve got a wee bit of talent, and they sort of excavate it,” added Boyle. “I had a woman called Trish Luke, who got me into going to drama school. There’s a fella called Philip Crawford in Belfast, too.” He continued:

“You know, I don’t come from somewhere where anyone has any sort of contacts or links to the industry. So, you’re just going to Google ‘how to be an actor,’ or ‘Belfast acting auditions.’ And then these people come into your life, and it’s ‘alright, here’s a route, I’ll be in front of this person, I think you’ve got a bit of talent.’”

“And you never forget that,” he went on, “because it’s the first person to go, ‘I think you could do this.’ You never forget those people, because they change your life. Otherwise, I’d be working…. I don’t know…”

Final Thoughts on Shardlake and (Fun) Possibilities

Shardlake TV show poster featuring Sean Bean

Shardlake (2024)

Release Date
May 1, 2024

Arthur Hughes , Sean Bean , Anthony Boyle , Babou Ceesay , Paul Kaye , Ruby Ashbourne Serkis , Peter Firth , Matthew Steer , Brian Vernel , Irfan Shamji , David Pearse , Miles Barrow , Mike Noble , Kimberley Nixon


Streaming Service(s)

As Shardlake plays out to its riveting conclusion, it will undoubtedly make the road ahead for Hughes and Boyle all the more creative and interesting. On that note, if you haven’t already tuned in, Hughes is a big part of The Archers, a compelling serialized podcast drama that originally began on radio in 1950. It tracks the lives of the Archer clan, their friends, and neighbors in a fictional farming village.

Meanwhile, Boyle, flying high off Masters of the Air and Manhunt, can be seen in the upcoming miniseries Say Nothing, yet another historical drama. The nine-episode series is based on Patrick Radden Keefe’s book and revolves around the decades-long Northern Ireland era known as “The Troubles.” It is told through the eyes of various IRA members. The big question: Would Anthony Boyle like to star in a contemporary drama or comedy? To which he replied:

“I’d like to maybe do something [set] in the future. Why not? Let’s roll the dice. Let’s do something set in 3025. Me and Arthur [Hughes] are, you know, cops on Mars trying to hunt down a Sabre Monk… maybe we can put that in the Universe. Shardlake 3000. We’ll see if anyone buys it.” Watch it in 2025? In the meantime, experience Shardlake on Hulu, streaming May 1. Watch it through the link below:

Watch Shardlake

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