Disney+’s ‘Shardlake’ Star Opens Up About Disability Representation In TV


The star of Disney+‘s Shardlake has addressed having a different disability to the character he portrays in the C.J. Sansom adaptation, which launches today.

Arthur Hughes, who was the first person with a disability to portray Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company, stressed that Shardlake was always going to have a disabled lead – whether him or another actor – coming as debate rages over authentic representation in TV and film.

Hughes has radial dysplasia in his right arm, while the titular Matthew Shardlake is a crime-solving barrister with scoliosis.

Hughes said at a London screening: “I was aware that Shardlake has a disability that is not my own, and I wanted to find a level of truth in what I was doing and not necessarily affecting something that was not my own experience. We look at hunchbacks in film, and they’re often mad, kind of grotesque caricature kind of things, which are just not real.”

Hughes added that being disabled is the “least interesting” thing about Shardlake.

Directed by Justin Chadwick and penned by Stephen Butchard, the series follows Shardlake and his accomplice Jack Barak (Anthony Boyle), as they manoeuvre the political and religious machinations of 16th century England.

Exec producer Stevie Lee said the team decided that Shardlake would still have scoliosis in the TV adaptation. “Arthur has a different disability, which probably means that he has a lot of shared experience of how the world fits around him, but we would never ever have taken away from what [Sansom] wrote.” 

Butchard said the production had received “full backing” from disability societies.

Speaking to the commission, Lee Mason, Scripted Originals Director at Disney+, said that the project came along right when the streamer was looking for a “sexy sort of crime thriller.” Supporting characters include Sean Bean playing Thomas Cromwell, Ruby Ashbourne-Serkis as Alice and Babou Ceesay as Abbot Fabian.

Tragically, just a few days prior to the show’s premiere, Sansom died. He passed away on April 27 after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2012. Tributes flooded in from his agents, publishers and fans.

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