Shardlake – In Pursuit of the Murderous Monks by the Hunchback Detective of Henry VIII

SERIES REVIEW – Sean Bean channels his inner Cromwell in this twist-laden tale, where a solitary lawyer investigates a brutal decapitation in a monastery. The narrative strongly evokes Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose’ and its 1986 film adaptation. This piece is merciless, dark-toned – a fitting tribute to the author who passed away this week.


The gloomy winter evenings of the recent past might have created the perfect atmosphere for Shardlake’s dark, Tudor adventures, as we’re forced to watch during the bright, clear summer evenings – but it’s even more poignant given that CJ Sansom, the author of the novels inspiring the series, has recently passed away. His novels were meant to be read in dark, stormy times, behind closed curtains by a flickering fire, and this faithful TV adaptation stays true to that intention.



The Hunchback Detective


Shardlake is a figure doomed by his physical deformity to loneliness and an awareness of suffering (society scorns him as a “hunchback”, and since he was “not made in God’s image”, he could not become a priest). Under the reign of Henry VIII, he works as a lawyer, initially through Thomas Cromwell’s intermediation (who outlived many of his other employers and rulers), just as the first steps towards the dissolution of the monasteries begin. Shardlake’s character on screen remains faithful to the image created by Sansom’s novels.

The series was primarily filmed in Hungary, Austria, and Romania, its visuals appropriately bleak, dark, and in many ways truly stunning. The sets, especially those of the massive monasteries which combine elements of the Kreuzenstein Castle in Vienna and the Vajdahunyad Castle, provide a fitting backdrop for the mystery-laden monk murders. Beyond the murders, the series also portrays King Henry VIII’s bold plan to dissolve the monasteries, a significant and controversial decision in the 1530s that radically changed England’s religious and social structure, with vast economic and political consequences.



Monastic Investigation


Matthew Shardlake (portrayed by Arthur Hughes) temporarily sets aside his legal duties when Cromwell (Sean Bean, who briefly shines on screen using all his prowess) assigns him to uncover the circumstances of his envoy’s brutal death, sent to the declining port town of Scarnsea’s St. Donatus Monastery to initiate its dissolution and asset distribution. The monks claim an “intruder” was the murderer. However, as each of them is suspicious and every monk has his own motive, this claim should be taken with a grain of skepticism.

Shardlake is accompanied by another of Cromwell’s men, Jack Barak (played by Anthony Boyle, a supporting actor we’re unlikely to see on screen for long, thanks to his recent successful roles like ‘Manhunt’ and ‘Masters of the Air’) – arguably, he’s not overly enthusiastic about the task. Barak primarily focuses on delivering the monastery’s material wealth to the king, while Shardlake is dedicated to uncovering the murder details and restoring the victim’s truth. This difference in goals leads to fiery exchanges between them during the investigation.



Suspects and Mists of Secrets


The list of suspects includes the abbot (played by Babou Ceesay), who sits like a fat spider at the center of a web of material and spiritual corruption; Brother Edwig (David Pearse), the monastery’s treasurer, rumored to have been on a business trip on the fateful night; Brother Mortimus (Brian Vernel), a former soldier notable for his apparent anger and possibly harboring more secrets than the other monks; Brother Jerome (Paul Kaye), the confused Carthusian monk who has found temporary refuge among the Benedictines and is convinced that Anne Boleyn was a victim of lies – thus naturally feeling no sympathy for the king or his representatives; and finally, a hooded figure who roams the rooftops, whom Shardlake has yet to lay his hands on.

There is one person who seems to possess crucial information: the much-suffered novice, Simon Whelplay (portrayed by Joe Barber), whom the cruel monastic brothers label “simple-minded.” He sees and hears more than he should. I probably don’t reveal too much if I say that he soon becomes unable to pass on the information, as it’s clear from the first scene that he is doomed to die, trembling next to a dropped wine glass.



Worth Returning to the Tudor Era


The series unfolds dynamically and skillfully, perfectly balancing explanations so that new viewers can easily follow the Tudor-era political intrigues without diminishing the enjoyment for those more familiar with the subject. The unexpected twists ensure that the series consistently captivates the attention, even for those who haven’t read the books. Shardlake’s character is particularly intriguing: on his lonely nights, he often engages in

introspection while removing the supports that alleviate his physical suffering. We are thus presented with a brilliantly executed and deeply moving story, which, despite its brief, four-episode length, compellingly draws the viewer into the dark, thrilling world of the Tudor era.

-Gergely Herpai (BadSector)-




Direction - 8.2
Actors - 8.4
Story - 8.2
Visuals/Music/Sounds - 8.2
Ambience - 8.2



The story of Shardlake, the solitary lawyer of the dark Tudor era, follows the unraveling of a bloody monastic mystery where political machinations and personal struggles weave a complex web. Sean Bean and Arthur Hughes' stellar performances make the series a captivating and thought-provoking experience for all viewers.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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