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Éanna Hardwicke on The Sixth Commandment: ‘It’s a devastating story. I’m just glad that it reached people’

As the four-part BBC series comes to a close, the young Cork actor has received ecstatic reviews for his disturbing performance

Éanna Hardwicke, the charismatic young Cork actor who broke through in Normal People, has received ecstatic reviews for his disturbing performance as a notorious murderer in the BBC series The Sixth Commandment. Ending its four-episode run on Tuesday night, the show details how Ben Field plotted the death of retired schoolmaster Peter Farquhar in 2015. Field played on the timid older man’s kindness, ultimately persuading him to change his will in his tormentor’s favour. He then moved on to Farquhar’s Buckinghamshire neighbour Ann Moore-Martin. Field was convicted of Farquhar’s murder in 2019 and sentenced to life. He was acquitted of the attempted murder of Moore-Martin.

“Hardwicke manages to infuse Ben with such a disconcerting blend of calculation, charm and quiet, almost hidden glee in the harm he inflicts that it is impossible to look away,” Lucy Mangan wrote in the Guardian. “Hardwicke rises to the challenge,” Dan Einav noted in the Financial Times. “He simultaneously portrays what Peter and Ann saw in Benjamin Field as well as the sociopath underneath.” There was more where that came from. It is the sort of performance that makes careers.

“It’s gratifying because it’s just great when people are moved by something and connect with it on an emotional level,” Hardwicke tells The Irish Times. “Which I think people have with this show. It’s a devastating story. I’m just glad that it reached people. I knew the quality was there – because it’s in the writing. And you’ve got a great director and a brilliant cast. But there is still that bit of alchemy when it reaches an audience. That can be unpredictable. And it takes seeing it yourself for the first time to know what that is.”

He is right to praise the personnel involved. The hugely experienced Sarah Phelps, who recently adapted the political drama A Very British Scandal, is behind the script. Timothy Spall plays Farquhar. Anne Reid plays Moore-Martin. Sheila Hancock and Amanda Root are also among the cast. One can imagine such a project going badly wrong, but Phelps made sure to consult the families of both Farquhar and Moore-Martin. The drama revisits the true meaning of that much misused word “gaslighting”. Field’s psychological cruelty to both is harrowing.


“I don’t think you could make it without them being on board,” Hardwicke says of the families. “That takes enormous courage I would imagine – to support this and be involved in that process. It meant a huge deal ... I haven’t got their full response. So I won’t say if they felt it was accurate or true. But I know they were involved in the initial development of the script. You couldn’t really tell that story without them.”

Raised in Cork, Hardwicke has been leaning towards the business since taking a juvenile role in Conor McPherson’s 2009 film The Eclipse. A graduate of the Lir Academy at Trinity College Dublin, he made his film debut in Vivarium, which played as part of Critics Week at Cannes in 2019. A year later, he caught attention as troubled Rob Hegarty in Normal People, the TV hit of lockdown. Further acclaim came his way for this year’s rural drama Lakelands. The performance in The Sixth Commandment looks likely to interest awards voters when that time comes around. It is a complex turn that hints at even more disturbing depths never fully revealed. It must have been hard to shake it off at the end of the day.

“I can shake it off,” Hardwicke says, cautiously. “What lingers is the story itself. We are very close to the story every day. We are thinking about what actually happened every day. And that doesn’t go away. Because it’s a true story – because there’s a greater responsibility than there is with fictional stories. I spent every hour that I could thinking about the next day’s scenes. We always had proximity to the story. Peter and Ann are quite present.”

Was Hardwicke familiar with the story before the script landed on his mat?

“I had only a vague recollection of reading it in the news,” he says. “It was a much bigger story in the UK than it was in Ireland. I was introduced to it when I got the script. And then I watched the documentary, Catching a Killer – the executive producer of that was an executive producer on this. I read everything I could. I was struck by how devastating it was, but also how eerie it was. In this tiny, tiny, very quiet village – to have people targeted for a particular vulnerability. It was pretty horrendous.”

It was like an education really. Because not only are they brilliant actors, they are also just really interesting people

Hardwicke already has a wealth of experience and education, but it must have been inspiring to be part of such a distinguished cast. There is so much to learn from the likes of Timothy Spall, Anne Reid and Sheila Hancock. He is going among royalty.

“It was like an education really,” he says. “Because not only are they brilliant actors, they are also just really interesting people – curious people who I learned so much from in between takes and just being on set with them. They are incredibly dedicated, generous actors. It was incredible to watch them transform in front of your eyes. [Timothy Spall] is known for that, and he does it better than anyone else. And Anne is this incredibly magnetic actor. She pulls you in. You forget that anyone else is in the room. The experience elevates what you’re doing.”

Hardwicke will next be seen opposite Saoirse-Monica Jackson in the thriller series The Doll Factory for Paramount+. After his performance in The Sixth Commandment, anything is then possible.

Episode four of The Sixth Commandment screens on BBC One on Tuesday, July 25th, at 9pm