Jude Law learned to play harpsichord and flute as Henry VIII in new Tudor film

24 June 2024, 15:54

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By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Hollywood finds its next star in the harpsichord, as Jude Law takes a seat behind the early instrument for new Henry VIII film ‘Firebrand’.

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Jude Law had to learn to play the harpsichord for his new role as Henry VIII in Firebrand, a historical dramatic psychological thriller starring Alicia Vikander as Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of the monstrous monarch.

Speaking to PEOPLE, Jude Law revealed: “Harpsichord was hard! I play a bit of piano, but there’s a different weight and a different timing to the harpsichord because it’s plucking the strings, instead of hitting them with hammers.”

Henry VIII was born in 1491 and died in 1547, during which time the harpsichord became one of the most important and versatile instruments of the era within European music – a popularity that continued until the wide adoption of the piano in the late 1700s.

Music was of huge importance in the royal court, and Henry himself played several instruments, leaving behind a host of them when he died including clavichords, virginals and sackbuts. He also founded and refounded some of today’s great music institutions including Christ Church, Oxford and Trinity College, Cambridge, and finished King’s College Chapel.

Keen to stay true to history, Law committed much time and devotion to his practice sessions. “I drove my friends and family crazy playing this one tune over and over and over,” he admitted.

Read more: Who was Greensleeves – and did Henry VIII really write the song?

Alicia Vikander as Katherine Parr and Jude Law as Henry VIII in Firebrand directed by Karim Aïnouz
Alicia Vikander as Katherine Parr and Jude Law as Henry VIII in Firebrand directed by Karim Aïnouz. Picture: Alamy

Even as a pianist, the harpsichord represents an entirely new challenge. The action on a harpsichord is quite different to a piano, the strings being plucked rather than struck by a hammer, and an exactness is required in the absence of a pedal or dynamic contrast.

Having plucked up the courage to learn a new instrument, it’s as yet unclear which tune Law went on to master. ‘Greensleeves’ might be an obvious choice, or perhaps an original piece by the film’s composer Dickon Hinchliffe (Leave No Trace).

Law insisted on showcasing his skills in a close-up shot, rather than working around the problem with hand shots of a real musician and wide shots from down the instrument, as has become usual practice in Hollywood.

“I insisted that director Karim [Ainouz] do a close-up of my hands so everyone knew it was actually me playing it,” the actor said. “I said, ‘You’ve got to make sure everyone knows it’s me, this thing that’s been on my back for months!’”

Read more: Meet John Blanke, Henry VIII’s highly favoured trumpeter and the face of Black Tudor England

Jude Law “drove friends and family mad” learning to play harpsichord for Firebrand
Jude Law “drove friends and family mad” learning to play harpsichord for Firebrand. Picture: Getty

Law has taken up new artistic pursuits before for the silver screen, learning saxophone for The Talented Mr Ripley, fencing for Peter Pan & Wendy, and ballet for A.I.

Will Jude be keeping up the harpsichord, perhaps for a surprise appearance with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment?

Law also told PEOPLE: “I learned the saxophone for several months so I could be plausible in [The Talented Mr. Ripley], and then I had these great intentions of carrying on and playing it forever,” he says.

“And it’s still in its case in my office, so... that never happened!”

Whether for a Renaissance fantasia, or a jazz solo, there’s always time to take out that instrument again...