TV Series Review: Cadfael

CadfaelThumbby Brad Nelson
In this decidedly high-brow series that is made for PBS geeks and Anglophiles, Derek Jacobi stars as a sort of Sherlock Holmes in 12th century Shrewsbury, England.

In the parallel universe inhabited by the people who do not think that Miley Cyrus is anything but a pimple on pop culture, Derek Jacobi is (how do you say?) the man. Perhaps known best for his portrayal of Claudius in I, Claudius, Jacobi is a talented and compelling actor, and never more so than in Cadfael.

Cadfael is one of the elder brothers (a monk) in Shrewsbury abbey. He is an herbalist (that era’s doctor, one presumes) and trusted on-call Holmesian sleuth when mysteries erupt, and they often do in the rough and often uncouth surroundings. Brother Cadfael combines his innate intelligence, and vast worldly experience (he used to be a Crusader), with his own brand of scientific method.

Brother Cadfael often rolls his eyes at Prior Robert and Brother Jerome (his foils in this series) for their more superstitious ways. But Cadfael is far from a modern. He is a man of deep faith but one who also is aware of the decidedly

Prior Robert, Cadfael, and Brother Jerome

Prior Robert, Cadfael, and Brother Jerome

human element when it comes to religion. And both Prior Robert and Brother Jerome add the spice of conflict to nearly every episode. They do not approve of this monk’s unconventional methods. He really ought to know his place.

Usually assisting Cadfael in the odd murder or disappearance is the good and brave Sheriff of Shrewsbury, Hugh Beringar (originally, and definitively for this series, played by Sean Pertwee…there were two others who later took on the role). Beringar is often at odds with Cadfael having little to no understanding of Cadfael’s more scientific methods. But he generally gives him the benefit of the doubt because Cadfael gets the results. They end up becoming good friends.

What makes this show is its particularly strong cast including Terrence Hardiman as Abbot Radulfus, a traditional man, of obvious weight and moral authority, but one who recognizes the usefulness of Cadfael, although the two are often at odds in terms of just how far afield Cadfael may wander into more secular affairs.

CadfaelSmilingAnd outside of the walls of the Abbey was not always a safe place. Twelfth century England could be violent. This show is set inside the ongoing conflict for the throne between the Empress Maude and King Stephen, both who claim title to the throne of England. Cadfael and the Brotherhood often find themselves in the middle of this conflict. And even monasteries do not have the luxury of being neutral.

My only criticism of this show is that from time to time the plots can tend to be a little thick or just don’t string together well into a coherent whole. But this is usually just an annoyance. The true delight of this show is in watching Derek Jacobi fully flesh out the singular and engaging character of this unusual and likable monk.

I highly recommend this series which consists of thirteen episodes. These are based on the novels (there were twenty-one in all) by Edith Pargeter writing under the name of Ellis Peters. I give this TV series 3.5 old bones out of 5.

CadfaelCover

At and around the Shewsberry abbey, Brother Cadfael is a monk with a difference. Given a choice, he would enjoy just being a simple gardener and herbalist for his home. However too often, events force him to use his other talent as a master sleuth in response to mysterious crimes happening in his community. While he investigates these crimes, he often finds himself at odds with the contemporary attitudes of the times with his own ahead of his time beliefs. More »

The Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters

1. A Morbid Taste for Bones (published in August 1977, set in 1137)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
2. One Corpse Too Many (July 1979, set in August 1138)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon  •  Full Episode (in 8 parts) on YouTube
3. Monk’s Hood (August 1980, set in December 1138)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
4. Saint Peter’s Fair (May 1981, set in July 1139)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
5. The Leper of Saint Giles (August 1981, set in October 1139)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
6. The Virgin in the Ice (April 1982, set in November 1139)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
7. The Sanctuary Sparrow (January 1983 set in the Spring of 1140)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
8. The Devil’s Novice (August 1983, set in September 1140)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
9. Dead Man’s Ransom (April 1984, set in February 1141)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
10. The Pilgrim of Hate (September 1984, set in May 1141)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
11. An Excellent Mystery (June 1985, set in August 1141)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
12. The Raven in the Foregate (February 1986, set in December 1141)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
13. The Rose Rent (October 1986, set in June 1142)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
14. The Hermit of Eyton Forest (June 1987, set in October 1142)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
15. The Confession of Brother Haluin (March 1988, set in December 1142)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
16. A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael (September 1988, set in 1120)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
17. The Heretic’s Apprentice (February 1989, set in June 1143)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
18. The Potter’s Field (September 1989, set in August 1143)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
19. The Summer of the Danes (April 1991, set in April 1144)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
20. The Holy Thief (August 1992, set in February 1145)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon
21. Brother Cadfael’s Penance (May 1994, set in November 1145)  •  Wiki  •  Amazon

Cadfael Complete Collection is available on DVD ($47.19 new, $34.95 used) or Amazon Instant Video ($7.99 per episode, $44.99 season 1). Not available for streaming on Netflix.

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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11 Responses to TV Series Review: Cadfael

  1. CCWriter CCWriter says:

    Oh, I loved this series! Have it on DVD. And read all the books too.

    When I was visiting England in the 90s, I went to Shrewsbury for the day with my sister, who was also a fan. They had at the time (I understand it’s since closed) a sort of Cadfael-abbey experience, built across the street from the church which is still standing, though the original abbey was torn down centuries ago. They had typical abbey rooms with typical furnishings and activities staffed by “monks” who are history teachers on summer break, and an outdoor area that included Cadfael’s hut where he keeps his herbs and so forth. It wasn’t hokey at all–it gave you a feel for how things were in times past.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Wow. That sounds so cool. I’d really like to visit that place…especially Cadfael’s herb hut where he prepared and kept his ointments and remedies.

  2. Glenn Fairman says:

    I will be looking for this

  3. Kung Fu Zu says:

    A sort of Father Brown with a tonsure? I wonder was he Benedictine or Dominican? I find the picture interesting because it is Franciscans who wear a brown tunic. But I don’t think the order had been founded yet.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’ll let you know about that, Mr. Kung. I started reading the first installment of the Father Brown series just last night. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the two share some traits.

      I don’t offhand remember which order that Brother Cadfael belongs to. They would seem to be Benedictines. Okay, just confirmed that with a Google search. Definitely Benedictine.

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    I haven’t seen the TV episodes, though I’ve read many of the books. Peters wrote a story on Cadfael’s decision to become a monk, and also one in which Shrewsbury is a battleground in the civil war.
    An interesting note about Derek Jacobi: he also provided a favorable introduction to one of the revisionist books I have on Shakespeare (i.e., one that considers the Earl of Oxford to have been the playwright).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I think Jacobi himself is likely a libtard…going by a few things I’ve heard from him. A shame, if true.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        That may be so, but I wouldn’t call him that because he finds the Oxford theory reasonable. I have 3 books on that subject (including one by the late Joseph Sobran, a conservative who became increasingly libertarian later in life) as well as several more orthodox studies of Shakespeare (and 2 complete sets of his works). Incidentally, the particular book for which he did his foreword was Mark Anderson’s biography of Oxford, which I highly recommend.

  5. NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

    I’ve seen some of the episodes years ago, and they were certainly enjoyable enough. I’ve pretty much given up on PBS these days, and not because it’s a Progressive stronghold that needs to be defunded 30 seconds after we get control of the government (although it is) but because I find what they’re doing is so far removed from their glory days back in the 70’s when they had Poldark, Henry VIII, Elizabeth R, and perhaps the best of them all, Jacobi’s I, Claudius in 1976. When sub-standard police melodrama like Prime Suspect is presented as if it were on a par with I, Claudius, you know that as an outlet of culture, PBS is about done.

    But an interesting choice for a review, and basically a worthy one.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The last thing I recall watching on PBS a couple of years ago was a Masterpiece Classics (I believe that’s what they called it) version of The 39 Steps (which follows the actual book much better than did the superb Hitchcock version).

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