by 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
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.
And 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.
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