Disney to Adapt CJ Sansom's Tudor England-Set Shardlake Mysteries

Damien Lewis as King Henry VIII in Wolf Hall

Damien Lewis as King Henry VIII in Wolf Hall 


There are very few shows where historical period dramas and police procedural mysteries crossover. The lack of shows that meet the criteria of both fandoms is why Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries was so popular and why Miss Scarlet & The Duke is currently such a massive hit for PBS because they are part of the few where the mystery of the week meets the period drama and makes it work. But the latter's success has not gone unnoticed, and All3Media's The Forge is forging ahead with an adaptation of another series that blends the two flavors so well, CJ Sansom's Shardlake novels, with Disney reportedly signing on to stream it. 

Sansom, who holds a doctorate in history, was a solicitor for decades until his writing found success with the first of his Matthew Shardlake series, Dissolution, published in 2003. Set during the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century, these historical mystery novels star a hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, whose first case is commissioned by Henry's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Shardlake has several assistants, starting with Mark Poer, in the first book, along with Guy Malton. Jack Barak arrives with the second novel Dark Fire, and more recently, Nicholas Overton, who shows up in the sixth novel, 2014's Lamentation.

Each book jumps ahead a few years; over time, Shardlake's commissioners go from Cromwell to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Queen Catherine Parr, and Princess Elizabeth. With the seventh installment, Tombland, set in 1549, the series officially exited the Henry VIII years and are functioning through the turbulent years. The next novel, Ratcliff, is due out in 2023 and will be set in 1552, just before Edward VI passes, and Sansom has said he plans further adventures post-1558 and Queen Elizabeth I's reign. In short, should the first season be successful, there's a whole lot of ground for this series to cover.

The first five Shardlake novels in a box set collection

The first five Shardlake novels in a box set collection


Here's the show's description via Deadline:

Working titled Shardlake, the series introduces Dr. Matthew Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer-turned-detective in Tudor England. He is sent by Thomas Cromwell, the ultimate Tudor powerbroker, to investigate the beheading of Robin Singleton, a commissioner responsible for disbanding monasteries after Henry VIII declared himself supreme head of the Church of England.

The series announcement comes without an actor attached to play the titular hunchback detective. However, it has signed a director to do all episodes of the series, Justin Chadwick, who just so happened to be the lead director on Starz's sadly canceled Becoming Elizabeth, which covers some of the same timeline as Sansom's later novels. Chadwick also previously directed The Other Boleyn Girl, which starred Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. The plan is for the series to shoot in the UK sometime in 2023, with sources saying the first season would probably run four episodes.

This is not the first time Shardlake has been eyed for adaptation. The BBC got as far as casting Kenneth Branagh as the detective in a serialized TV series based on the books back in 2007, but the project fell apart, and Branagh eventually ended up playing Wallander for the Beeb in place of that project.

Disney has not commented on the news, but the belief is the show will stream on Disney+ in the U.K. in late 2023 or early 2024, while chances are high it will wind up on Hulu in the U.S.


Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. A DC native, Hufflepuff, and Keyboard Khaleesi, she spends all her non-writing time taking pictures of her cats. Regular bylines also found on MSNBC, Paste, Primetimer, and others. 

A Woman's Place Is In Your Face. Cat Approved. Find her on BlueSky and other social media of your choice: @anibundel.bsky.social

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