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Having Arthur Hughes and Anthony Boyle act as partners in crime solving is entertaining to say the least. The duo play their parts like they were made for them in Shardlake, Hulu’s new 16th-century Tudor murder mystery miniseries. This show is reminiscent of other odd couples in cop shows who come together out of necessity but end up becoming friends – from The Wire’s McNulty and Bunk (Dominic West and Wendell Pierce) to Mulder and Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) on The X-Files.

In this adaptation of C.J. Sansom’s best-selling murder mystery novels, Hughes and Boyle are electric. But the four-part historical drama does more than just showcase them; it zips along at a clip, inserting proper musical crescendos and quick cuts to keep things moving even when you don’t necessarily want them to do so. Not that it’s bad that the stars outshine the plot execution here — far from it — but the experience is often frustratingly fun. You just wish you had more time with these characters, backstories be damned for now.

Ultimately, this is Matthew Shardlake’s story (played by Hughes), an ambitious barrister living with scoliosis in 16th-century England. Thomas Cromwell (Sean Bean), part of Henry VIII’s inner circle, wants all the monasteries dissolved; luckily, he gets his chance after a beheading gives him a good reason to shut one down completely. But before you can close up shop, there must be an investigation into said murder — thus giving Shardlake a case to solve and him an unlikely partner to accompany him through it all: John Barak (Boyle), played with cocksure swagger by Boyle himself.. Fans of quirky buddy movies will appreciate this fast yet tight misadventure; fans of murder mysteries will dig its twists; fans of historical dramas will enjoy themselves immensely. It may leave you wanting even more. There were seven Shardlake books in total.

Stevie Lee (The Reason I Jump), an executive producer on the series, bought the rights to Shardlake about two decades ago. Maybe time was always on her side; part of the culture currently loves historical dramas. Hulu’s Shōgun has been a hit recently, and Masters of the Air, Manhunt (both starring Boyle), Franklin, and Mary & George have all found their footing with viewers. So Shardlake slots in nicely here, with writer Stephen Butchard (The Good Mothers) doing his best work yet — keeping everything taut.

Cromwell wants Barak to go with Shardlake; it adds another layer of intrigue to things. Can we trust this man? Shardlake doesn’t know; he’s not sure about much right now. This is where the plot gets really twisty, forcing you to pay attention if only for a moment or two longer than before — but let me tell you something: there are no two better actors on Earth who can go back and forth like these two can and maybe come out the other side still friends, if not something else entirely. Boyle looks too clean-shaven next to all these other 16th-century fellas; again, that’s not his fault.

But there are no faults with Hughes’ performance here or the writing that surrounds him. The actor really takes command of this character — it’s one of those roles that must have felt like a gift from day one for any actor lucky enough to get cast in it. And considering how many actors would kill for such a part at any point in their career (especially given how well it’s written), it feels almost serendipitous that Hughes ended up playing Shardlake now — when he has this much control over both himself as an artist and what happens onscreen around him as well.. That’s not to say that he had any power before or didn’t care about his craft until this moment; rather, it just seems like everything has fallen into place perfectly here for him with this character and story. It feels right somehow.

Shardlake uses his brain throughout the Hulu miniseries to prove himself while Barak flexes his alpha. And yet, if you’ve seen Boyle in Masters of the Air and Manhunt, this feels like a more reserved performance from him. He’s supposed to be a potential but well-meaning thorn for Shardlake according to the script, and there is some cleverness as to how Butchard gets these two on the same square. Curiously, Barak wasn’t in the very first Shardlake novel, Dissolution, which this outing is based on; he showed up in the next book. So having him here gives the series some extra pep.

Meanwhile, there’s a murder mystery to solve. Cromwell had sent a commissioner into that monastery, and we need to get to the bottom of why he was beheaded. The show does an excellent job at showcasing ominous hidden portals within the monastery — dark, mysterious chambers; torches; candles; etcetera — constantly giving you that whisked-along-a-suspenseful-misadventure-that-always-ends-on-a-cliffhanger feel. There’s even a touch of Disney-esque splash here and there. Ultimately forgivable, but any more of it would make you think we’re watching Pirates of the Caribbean‘s cousin.

The time period itself also gets its due with Butchard inserting as many historical notations as he can. The writer loves Shardlake’s rants when he goes off on various murder suspects. About that … all those monastery monks themselves seem untrustworthy — with more than a hint that something is hidden under/within them (the service). Like Immaculate (the recent Sydney Sweeney movie set in a monastery), there are no neutral characters here either. Sometimes “everybody is a suspect” works for us; not so much here with our “everybody isn’t what they seem.” That makes the core mystery, which should actually be more appealing than the stars leading us through it, less so.

Still, This brisk and engaging story with creepy overtones showcases the world outside the king’s court, and everything from production design to editing offers our main stars a great platform on which to shine. Is that final stretch worth it? A big yes — mostly thanks to Hughes and Boyle.

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