Mystery!: Cadfael (TV Series 1994–1996) Poster


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A brilliant achievement, all to short (only 13 episodes)
catuus18 May 2006
Now that all 13 episodes of (Sir) Derek Jacobi's landmark mystery series "Cadfael" are now available in a single package, it's time to give this treasure a good look. The bound-leather look of the collection is nice, even if it's obviously not mediaeval. It has convenient double trays and a clever faux clasp to hold it shut.

"Cadfael" is based on the novels of Ellis Peters (pen name of Edith Pargeter). It's set in 1138-1144/5, during the spotty reign of Stephen of Blois – King of England 1135-1154 – and his civil war with his cousin "Empress" Maud (or Matilda). Stephen's claim to the throne was less compelling than that of Matilda (or Maud), as he was the son of William I's daughter Adela and had already sworn to support his cousin's claim. Maud's (or Matilda's) claim was better, since she was the daughter of William II. Her title "Empress" was only a courtesy because, although she had been wife to Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, she had never been crowned. Despite his oath Stephen quickly appeared to claim the throne when William II died. Matilda (or Maud) came to England in 1138 and a bitter civil war ensued. "Cadfael" begins in 1138, when Stephen seems to be gaining the upper hand. He has just captured the Shropshire area, subsequently executing a large number of his enemies – thus effecting the taming of Shrewsbury.

I expect some really sincere groans after that….

Brother Cadfael is the herbalist and, in consequence, as close to a doctor as Shrewsbury Abbey is likely to get. His medical practices are fairly advanced for the time – but then, any genuinely medical practices would be. Cadfael has come late to his monkish vocation, having spent 3 or 4 decades in Palestine on Crusade. He has an interesting past … many details of which we learn as the series progresses. Learned for his time, and being clever and inquisitive, Cadfael's avocation is solving murder mysteries. Derek Jacobi invests the character with enormous humanity and compassion in brilliant and nuanced performances.

In fact, "Cadfael" is an ensemble of excellent performances. Not least of these is the performance of the technical staff in reproducing the squalor and degradation of living in 12th-Century England. At the height of the Little Ice Age, England was a less pleasant and productive land than it is now – a situation exacerbated by the collapse of Romano-British civilization, the deep-rootedness of Christian superstition, and the triumph of Norman greed. Interestingly, this period is equally well portrayed in a comedy, the hilarious Brit series "Dark Ages".

The mysteries that involve Cadfael are complex and interesting, lasting about 1 hour 15 minutes each. His task is made more difficult by the rampant sophomoric thinking of the times and the numerous uptight personalities who think they're better than anyone else.

Speaking of personalities … this series is full of them, all highly interesting and individualized, portrayed by accomplished actors. While the murders pose interesting puzzles – especially in the absence of modern forensics – it's the interactions of the characters that really make the stories. (As to forensics, Cadfael is surprisingly thorough and almost scientific. This is almost a century before the prime of Roger Bacon, an era of the triumph of religion and therefore the abasement of empiricism – and yet, here is Cadfael.) Most of the main characters are involved in the abbey. This is, initially, headed by Abbot Heribert (oddly - for the time - spelt "Herribert"). He is played with gentle gravitas by Peter Copley. By decision of a church council, Heribert is quickly replaced by, Radulphis, played with assertive gravitas by Terrence Hardiman. Whilst Heribert tended to give Cadfael his head, Radulphus began his tenure as more skeptical of Cadfael's abilities. However, he quickly came to depend on Cadfael in difficult situations involving murder.

Cadfael's nemesis in most circumstances is Brother Robert, the abbey Prior, played with stuffy all-purpose disapproval by Michael Culver. In his grouchy skepticism, he's seconded by busybody Brother Jerome, played with prissy toadiness by Julian Firth. It's not always clear what this pair is up to, but they're always up to it together. Cadfael is assisted by young Brother Oswin, played with earnest immaturity by Mark Charnock. His clumsiness is a running joke for a time, but this is later wisely abandoned.

Cadfael's main ally is the Under Sheriff, Hugh Beringar – originally a partisan of Matilda (or Maud) who ultimately swore loyalty to Stephen and was raised to his current post. He is played very authoritatively by Sean Pertwee – easily the best bit of eye candy in the series. Alas, Beringar is played by 3 actors. Pertwee has the role during Season 1, Eoin McCarthy in Seasons 2-3, and Anthony Green in Season 4. The latter two do well, but the viewer misses Pertwee's affable authority. Beringar is assisted by a Sergeant, Will Warden, a hulking berserker sort, prone to arrest first and ask no questions after, played with appropriate menace by Albie Woodington. He doesn't appear in the last season, alas.

"Sheriff", by the way, should more properly be spelt "sherrif". The Old English is scir gerefa, later rendered as "shir(e) reeve" once the "ge" syllable had been lost (nasty Teutonic thing). Conflating into a single word, we should have been left with a double R (and a single F). Such are the vagaries of English. Ask me about the abomination "dwarfs" some time.

The generally top-notch actors give real life to some top-notch stories. But these are, of course, British films. It's amazing that this country, with a fine and sophisticated mystery tradition of its own, has produced little to rival the great British mystery series. Be that as it may, "Cafael" is one of those great series and this set is the most convenient and most economical way to get it.
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MrBigglesworth24 January 1999
Cadfael is, in my opinion, one of the best sleuths in the category of mystery-solvers. He really is a very enjoyable character. And Derek Jacobi does a wonderful job in portrayal. The stance, the voice, the entire person is so true to the book. This is one must-see mystery series!
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I love Cadfeal
p_rinehart10 November 2005
It was certainly one of the more original mysteries to come to television. I love Jacobi, he's probably one of my favorite actors. I must say my favorite sheriff was Sean Pertwee. Jon Pertwee's son (of Dr. Who fame). I have to agree with Br. Jerome being one you would love to just kick. I think the actor does a bang up job doing so. Are there any more in the series? I would think so, I've only read a handful of the stories. I probably learned more about plants watching this than I ever did on my own. The actor who played the Sargeant, I've seen him before...oh yes, Hitchhiker's Guide I think. So as not to stray too much off topic, I'd actually give Cadfeal a 10/10. I love the program and plan on getting it on DVD.

Well that's my 2 cents.
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an excellent medieval whodunit
jfrada13 August 2006
I first watched this show believing it would be another dull British detective story, I was wrong it was an excellent show about a medieval monk who uses deductive reasoning to solve murders. The show also gives you a sense of what life was like in the middle ages. A lot of medieval stories concentrate on brutality of the times while this one shows the day to day affairs of normal people, the culture ,the church, the politics and how it affects the murder of the victims.

I have since read the Ellis Peters novels and quite simply this is one case where the TV show is better than the books it was based on. I highly recommend watching this show if you like murder mysteries.
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If there was a poll...
ladydragon0421 September 2003
My vote for this series would be an 8 out of 10. It's fairly accurate to the book and I think I actually enjoy the series more. It got rather strange when the actor playing Hugh Beringar kept changing, Sean Pertwee (from the premier season) portrayed him the best. Some of the later episodes fell short of my expectations and sometimes the extras' voices were quite obviously dubbed in, but all in all it was quite an entertaining show.
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I'd like to vote for it, but....
jack-26014 May 2000
there's no ballot. I'd give the series a 9-of-10 mark. Jacobi is perfect as the solver of mysteries. I'd like to kick Brother Jerome in the shins, so that actor must have done an excellent job playing his part as well. Of the 3 sheriffs, I prefer the premier season's man. The others don't quite measure up. I have seen 10 of the videos released from the series so still trying to locate those from the 3rd set.
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The novels are better
bawb29 March 1999
I've watched all four sets of episodes in the "Cadfael" series, and I've also read the novels that each episode is based on, and I must say that the novels are much better. Firstly, the dramatizations of Ellis Peters' work are only very, *very* loosely based on the novels; often the plot of the dramatization bears virtually no resemblance to the plot of the corresponding novel. However, the most remarkable difference between the novels and their dramatizations are the way the characters are portrayed: In general, the characters are displayed in a much more sympathetic light in the novels than they are in the dramatizations. In many of the episodes, the only characters who come out with a clean nose are Cadfael and the female lead, while almost all the other characters are portrayed as ignorant and/or mean-spirited and/or having ulterior and selfish motives. In the novels, the kindest and most charitable view of every character emerges from the prose. Even the murderer in most of the novels is treated with a degree of sympathy in the end. Many of the characters who in the novels are genuinely good people (or at least have good intentions or a good will) are presented in the dramatizations as mean, nasty, judgemental, narrow-minded, and stupid. As a consequence, the "Cadfael" video dramatizations are harsher and darker, and they come across as less authentic and balanced compared to the novels.

On a positive note, the sets and costumes in the series are great. Derek Jacobi is absolutely *perfect* in the lead role of Cafael - I cannot conceive of another actor playing Cadfael; Jacobi owns this role the way Jeremy Brett came to own the role of Sherlock Holmes. Michael Culver and Julian Firth are exactly as I imagined Prior Robert and Brother Jerome to be when I was reading the novels. The same goes for the Terrence Hardiman as Abbot Radulfus. Given that Hugh Beringar is such a central character in the series, it is unfortunate that one actor could not have been recruited to play him for every episode. My favorite Hugh Beringar is the first one, played by Sean Pertwee. Finally, the actresses playing the female leads have, without exception, been superb.

In conclusion, the "Cadfael" series is good, but the dramatizations are not as good as the novels. Watch the episodes in the series, but be sure to read the novels they are based on afterwards. And if you read the novels *before* you watch the dramatizations, prepare for yourself for disappointment.
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One of television's best
Glaschu30 December 1999
Even those with criticism for the Cadfael series' inaccuracies and inconsistencies can't help but be avid admirers. The writing and performances are superb and Jacobi must surely be one of the most gifted actors alive on stage or screen.

It seems unnecessary that they had to go abroad to film the series. There must surely be a patch of forest left in Wales or the west of England that would have suited a film crew. It is also a shame that more actual Welsh actors had not been engaged for the series, even as extras or cameos. The location is in a traditionally Welsh region of Shropshire, so one should expect to hear Welsh being spoken by the abbey locals, if not the occasional cast member.

It is true some of the episodes did not work well, especially the incredible "Virgin in the Ice". "The Sanctuary Sparrow" is certainly one of the best due to the classical tragedy of the story. The series is accompanied well on American television by forewords and epilogues by Diana Rigg, usually with interesting trivia about the books, filming or historical background.
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Hits and misses.
sneakyclevermongols18 January 2005
I agree with "hgallon" on quite a few points.

Any literary adaptation for the large or small screen, owes its existence to the source material. Therefore, it's not merely respectful to retain what made the source material compelling to start with; it's practical. (Acknowledging, of course, the fine adjustments that must occur when translating a story from one medium to another.)

The series achieves both "hits" and "misses".

I too was a little hurt that Cadfael's Welsh origins was omitted. And for several reasons:

Cadfael's Welshness was an important aspect of his character. Anytime the abbey needed a Welsh translator (they WERE on the borderlands!), or the story required someone who knew both the Welsh and the English psyche intimately, Cadfael was called upon. Also, Ms. Peters indicates more then once that his affably earthy, yet bold, "take-no-crap" personality is a direct result to the Celtic culture in which he was brought up.

I hardly think a simple Welsh accent would be beyond the scope of Mr. Jacobi's acting talent. (Ian Holm did it pretty well in "Henry V"...) I wonder why he was not asked to try?

While on the subject, did anyone notice the actor playing Meurig in "Monk's Hood?" He played the lead in "Hedd Wyn" ---- the biopic of poet Ellis Evans. It was nominated for a "Best Foreign Film" Oscar in 1993. DEFINITELY worth checking out:
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Flawed but enjoyable.
hgallon8 December 1999
Having read Ellis Peters's "Cadfael" novels first, I regret that I was a little disappointed by some of the episodes in this series. "One Corpse Too Many" and "The Sanctuary Sparrow" were probably the best. "The Leper of Saint Giles" and "The Virgin in the Ice" show the bad features of the series at their worst.

On the plus side, the locations, costumes and overall authenticity of the series are good. Some supporting actors give excellent performances, especially Michael Culver and Albie Woodington. Most of the guest appearances are also well performed in a nicely restrained style. It is a shame that we have not seen more of Sarah Badel (Sister Avice) and Geoffrey Leesley (Sheriff Prestcote), especially as they are quite important to the plots of several episodes, and their absence seems to leave the plots a little contrived.

On the minus side, the continuity of more than one episode leaves a lot to be desired. Fleeing characters are inches ahead of their pursuers in one shot and leading by hundreds of yards in the next. The series was mostly filmed in Hungary and most of the Hungarian minor characters, while very photogenic, are being very badly dubbed indeed.

The worst feature of the bad episodes is the way the plot is sometimes butchered to fit the time available. This can leave viewers who have not read the book in question baffled, especially as the thing is supposed to be a "Whodunnit", and without the necessary development some solutions seem to owe rather too much to divine inspiration.

Finally, while Derek Jacobi's acting is as superb as always, he would not have been my natural choice in the role. In the first place, Cadfael's welsh nationality has been dropped. This admittedly is of importance in one episode only ("A Morbid Taste for Bones") and perhaps in another ("Monk's Hood"). More important, he seems rather too refined and donnish to be the former common soldier, crusader and seaman he professes himself to be. Few actors could play such a role as originally penned: Philip Madoc would be one, Gareth Thomas another.
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Delightful Medieval Mystery Series
bs3dc18 March 2009
Cadfael is a medieval detective series set in mid-12th Century Shrewsbury against the backdrop of a devastating civil war. It is based on the entertaining and popular series of novels by Ellis Peters, the pseudonym of Edith Pargeter. The protagonist is a Benedictine monk, Brother Cadfael, the crusader-turned-herbalist at the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul, who finds that the only way to get justice for the corpses that come under his care is to investigate the murders himself.

Many of the intricacies and sub-plots that brought such life to the source material are cut out to fit the stories into 75 minutes. Only 13 episodes of the 20 available books were filmed, which is a shame, although from reading the entire series I would say that arguably the best stories got through. The adaptations are good despite their limitations, but it is noticeable when the original (and superior) dialogue is used. The sets and costumes look great and the Hungarian location is a more than adequate substitute. The authenticity in the series is much higher than in most films set in the era.

The role of Brother Cadfael is played brilliantly by Sir Derek Jacobi, who delivers a performance that really brings out the different facets of the complex character of a former crusader and sailor who settles for a quiet life in a monastery. Though he was not the first choice for the role, it is hard to see how anyone could have improved upon his work except to perhaps bring out more of the Welshman in him. The support is mostly excellent, with actors such as Terence Hardiman, Julian Firth, Michael Culver etc. turning in memorable performances. It is a shame that they could not have had more consistent casting of law man Hugh Beringar and it is not just the actor that changed – he went from being a level-headed and intelligent man in the Sean Pertwee era to someone who believed in testing guilt by throwing the accused in a river during the Anthony Green phase! Unfortunately occasionally there is some unintentional hilarity from the poor dubbing of the Hungarian extras.

Cadfael is worth seeking out if for no other reason than because it is a refreshing change from the CSI-type mysteries that fill our screens, with a different setting and a focus on knowledge of human behaviour rather than forensics (though Cadfael is well ahead of his time in the latter discipline!).
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CSI Goes Medieval . Part Whodunnit and part history lesson. Well done and entertaining.
guanche28 December 2007
A literate and highbrow series about a medieval herbalist monk who uses his knowledge to solve crimes. More interesting and much less voyeuristic than CSI and kindred shows.

Most of the previous reviewers did a good job of describing the nature of the series and how truly well acted and off beat it is. Rather than reiterate their commentary, I would like to focus on the show's realistic portrayal of the times. The vast majority of medieval films and/or shows go to inaccurate extremes. In the 50s and 60s, all the women wore brassieres and had Lady Clairol hairdos. The guys were all clean shaven Brylcream men with slicked back pompadours. And everyone's clothes looked freshly pressed and drycleaned. In the 70s, the trend went to the other extreme. All, even the well off, were dressed in filthy, tattered clothes and looked as if they did indeed bathe daily---in a vat of manure. Lots of teeth were missing from every mouth and every face covered with running sores. There was no middle ground between the squeaky clean people and places of the 50s "Robin Hood" series (a good adventure show nonetheless) and the comically exaggerated filth and squalor of "Jabberwocky".

The Cadfael series provided that balance. The set designs and costumes were very accurate renderings of what actually existed at the time, and the series credibly demonstrated how people of that era went about their daily business and social lives. Many, especially the poor, were certainly ragged and unkempt, but few, rich or poor, were oblivious to the appearance of their homes or themselves. Another aspect of this show missing from most similar efforts was it's attempt to show how the tradespeople and middle class of the time worked and lived. Most "medieval" films perpetuate the myth that society was strictly divided into "have everythings" and "have nothings". Everyone is either an aristocrat or a starving, oppressed serf dressed in rags. This show actually gives the viewer an idea of how much more varied and complex medieval society really was.

A first rate show, even more so for the historically literate. Although some of the later episodes hobbled their plots with ponderous soap opera "blasts from the past" from Cadfael's former life as a crusader, I was sad to see the series end. I never read any of the books, but understand that there are still a few that have not been filmed. I would love to see the series revived, although this winning combination of casting and production would be hard to repeat and harder still to beat.
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A 16th century Detective
hifispacemonkey11 May 2008
I discovered this series when I was about 15 years old. . . (I, obviously, wasn't the average teenager.) I've loved it ever since. I was drawn to the series when I saw Derek Jacobi's face on the cover of a VHS. I loved his work in "I Claudius," "Hamlet," "The Secret of NIMH"--yes he was a voice actor in it, and a number of other performances that I can't list off the top of my head.

Anyways, the story centers around a Monk in Middle Ages England named Cadfael who has knowledge in a number of unusual areas. He uses this knowledge to solve murders. It's an unusual premise, but it works and comes across beautifully--Thanks in great part to Derek Jacobi's amazing performance.

I would also recommend reading the series written by Ellis Peters.
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Another Great series from the BBC!
azcowboysingr15 June 2007
We have the entire Brother Cadfael series on VHS (DVDs are still too expensive for us), as well as all of Ellis Peter's novels. We never tire of watching/reading them. The production values are exquisite, the acting (even the bit players) is above excellence, & the scenery, sets, photography, is among the best I have ever seen. If there is one flaw to this series, it is that they quit before they made all of the novels into teleplays. This is one series that could have gone on for another 5 years or so & not lost our rapt attention. Sir Jacobi did his part with both professionalism & a human quality that made the character totally believable. Our only actual gripe is that Sean Pertwee did not continue his role as Hugh Beringer throughout the entire 13 episodes. He was the best "Sheriff" in our opinion, although the other two actors did very creditable jobs with their portrayals. This is one series that any mystery/history buff needs to add to their collection pronto!
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Steller Film work
Ephesians602 January 2007
Hi folks,.

This is one heck of a great piece of Cinmniamatic genius. Cadfael is with out a doubt of of the best sires I have ever seen. No foul language, no violence, no sex, no nothing offensive just good clean entertainment. I have the complete 13 dis set and it is amazing. Brother Cadfael played by Derek Jacobi, is a 12th century monk in Shrewsbury England. He is like Jesscia Fletcher form the Murder she wrote sires. Only a 12th century one as well as being a monk he solves all the murders and other crimes that take place in and around the Abbey. This sires is way to advanced for most kids under 14. But a must see.

Thank you
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I know that due to the 'translation' from book to TV series some things may have got 'cut'! Especially as the creator of Cadfael was should a good and talented writer... should great writing can't just be carried over on the thin silver screen of our TV sets! So I rather watch the series on his own merits - and let be honest - it's a great series. Not many other series can match the quality of this one. The scenes, the costumes, the actors... it all fitted. They really should have done more episodes. Derek is really a great actor - and in Cadfael he once more shows it! The way he moves, walks and reacted on events - findings and other characters lines is really first class. This is mirrored by the quality acting of the other cast members. Terrence is Abbot Radulfus - Michael is Prior Robert - beside that it was for me nice to see them both in one series again. As both actors did should a wonderful job playing German officers in another great British series Secret Army (1970s) about the Belgian resistance during World War Two. Perhaps the changing 'face' of the Hugh could be for some viewers a problem. For me it wasn't. All three of them created their version of Hugh - Cadfael's friend and local Sheriff. I know a lot of them liked the 'first' actor who played the character but I must say I have grown to like Eoin McCarthy the second sheriff (Virgin in the Ice etc.) for some reason he seemed 'closer' to Cadfael... Eoin showed more the closeness both character have - especially if you watch him in the episode A Raven in the Foregate.
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Great Medieval Mystery Series
whpratt131 May 2007
Enjoyed this series of "Cadfael" which ran on TV in 1994 about a monk named Brother Cadfael,(Derek Jacobi) who gives Spiritual help and heals the wounded and sick and also is a detective who delves into the human soul and manages to get criminals and evil people to either turn over a new way of living or just face their punishment and be hanged or sent to prison. In one of these TV Series,"The Devil's Novice" a young man decides to enter the monastery and become a monk and he is questioned about why he wants to become a monk and at night he seems to have nightmares and starts screaming and causing all kinds of problems which make the monks think he is possessed by the Devil. However, it turns out that this young man was in love with his brother's girl-friend and his heart was broken and his father suggested he go immediately to the monastery and become a monk. Brother Cadfael searches this young man's heart and soul and finds very dark deep secrets which involves many other people in his family.
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Some true spituality
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU18 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This series is interesting for many reasons. First of all, it is well done in a real setting, with a real abbey church and abbey, Shrewsbury Abbey, real stone and not plywood. The costumes and the quality of life in this twelfth century England are credible. The mud and the dirt are constantly present. The medicine of the time and the agriculture of the time are also in many ways true to what it was. The Benedictines are often called the engineers of the Middle Ages, and they were. A quick look in one episode on the scriptorium is probably not enough about that intellectual and technological importance of the order. They saved the libraries and the knowledge of the Roman Empire and brought it out when needed, particularly starting in the tenth century to develop the green revolution and later on the proto-industrial revolution centered on water mills, a Roman invention that the Romans did not use since they had slaves.

The think that is missing though is the fact that this evolution was based on the religious reform of the 9th century that imposed the fifty two Sundays as days without work, plus the three religious festivities, Nativity, Passion and Assumption, altogether seventy- five days without human work. You can imagine how important it was to invent the horse collar, crop rotation, fertilizing, and these water mills that replaced so many men and women, even children, making the dream of a society centered on religion and without slaves a possible dream. We do not see these realities and these events enough.

It is interesting too because many episodes are on the background of a civil war between a king and some rebels. King Stephen reigned from 1135 to 1154. This civil war connected with Wales as for the rebels is depicted as violent, brutal and absolutely unreliable. The monks were supposed to be neutral and at the same time supporting the King. Complicated. It is surprising though that the religious status they had was too often enough to protect them against the villains on either side. But this civil war was only an event that enabled the suspense to work in the episodes.

The main interest is of course in the mysteries and crimes that happen in this context. Brother Cadfael is an ex-crusader who came back and did not hold his promise to go back to the woman he left waiting behind. Instead he joined the Benedictine order. But he developed a vast knowledge on plants and cures for many ailments and his mind was also very speculative about the motivations of people and he was often called upon to investigate this or that strange situation with one or two dead people. He is of course very innovative, and yet we know that these Benedictines were very clever as for disentangling some complicated situation. We of course think of "The Name of the Rose."

The murders, or at times mysterious deaths, were always dealt with in a modern way and the solution is never really what we expect. The director and the author play on our nerves and let us believe we know, though at times this piece of truth is so obvious that we know they want us to think we know, and the last twist reveals that we were wrong all along, just like Cadfael actually. That makes the stories interesting just at that level and the Crime Scene Investigation is always rich and tricky.

For all these reasons I think this series should satisfy many people who want to be titillated with mystery, crime and a spiritual dimension which is at times perverse but most of the time just real. Some of the monks are real obnoxious people, selfish, self-centered, frankly racist or segregationist. But some others are full of compassion and patience and they are those who carry the day in the end.

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A performance of a master from Dereck Jacobi.
kikkapi2017 August 2014
This is a great, great show. that manages to mix mystery with an authentic period feel. I have always been interested in the middle ages. i loved this show the first time i saw an episode on PBS. Great mysteries, interesting characters and a good feel for period- although the people are a bit clean most of the time; really love the interplay between Cadfael, standing for logic, rationality, and the power of the human brain to perceive the world and the characters of brother prior/brother Jerome standing for dogma, doctrine and rigid interpretations of the world based on religious hocus pocus. Derek Jacobi shines as brother Cadfael, bringing his wonderful talent to the role and delivering a sterling performance each time. It is so easy to love Cadfael, with his strong sense of justice and dry wit. not to mention his rebellious streak. MUST WATCH!
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A medieval gem....
qasdfghj15 April 2012
This cross between a medieval period piece and fantasy TV show and detective series is perfect. It is truly unlike anything I've seen before, and I wish there were more like it. The stories are compelling and interesting, and not obvious to solve at all. The acting I thought was quite good.

Derek Jacobi most of all is phenomenal. He was perfect in this role, as a trustworthy figure, with outstanding morals, and an ability to see the humanness in all those around himself. As the series went on, I also began to truly appreciate characters like Brother Jerome - who although so easy to feel bitter about, did an excellent job at portraying the character he did.

I'm not very versed on the climate of these times, but I'd like to think that this series exemplifies it well. It's also just very enjoyable to watch and family friendly.
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Jacobi Makes A Very Difficult Premise Work.
clotblaster5 January 2012
Derek Jacobi, recently knighted, is on the short list of great Brit actors, if the Brits are doing the ranking. Virtually unknown over here because of his lack of movie roles and t.v. appearances, he takes firmly hold of his role as Cadfael, the medievel, detective/herbalist monk. The 75 minute shows, set in the middle ages (late middle ages probably because of crusades backstory for Cadfael and the show itself) are just long enough to develop character of the main roles, tell the story, explore a theme or two, focus on CAdfael's bumbling, at times,attempt to stay true to his orders as a monk, and remind the audience that good and evil are sustaining characteristics of so many people throughout all times. Although somewhat subtle, this show owes much to the Medieval morality plays (short plays illustrating different human and divine virtues and vices) there is no hemming and hawing about the presence of evil that infects Cadfael's monastery and surrounding area--mostly woods and in the background the great (fictional I believe)Shrewsbury Castle looming over the landscape of the shows. There is a civil war going on between Empress Maud and King Stephen for control of much of England (fictional characters). Many of the plots involve characters' allegiances, at least as jumping off points. The monastery and its surrounding lands (supposedly quite vast) are up for grabs for the monarchs, though Cadfael's monastery is part of the land of one of the monarchs (or at least claimed by one of the monarchs) at the time of the show--Empress Maud is the putative ruler of the abby, BUT CAdfael's monastery and lands are technically neutral and this neutrality is another premise that motivates the characters and their actions. A show about a detective/monk in the middle ages is not immediately appealing to most people. Many people give Jacobi all the credit for making the show work, or at least marketable. However, the recurring characters (three or four monks) are fleshed out nicely and permit the show an easy way to illustrate the the contrasts of good and evil--two of the monks (second and third in command) are lubricious, sneaky, rather creepy, but also ambiguous, characters who belie their Christian vows ubiquitously. They look for bad in people and do nothing to nurture the good in their brother monks and other people in the show. I am very sensitive to 20/21st secular animosity towards devout Christians (Southern born agains are the devil for most Hollywood filmmakers). This show comes close to being too strenuous in its depiction of the evil, in the monks and thus in Christianity, but the handling of religious wickedness works because most of the very human evil in a couple of the monks is manifested more in their thoughts and beliefs, not their actions. In any event, Jacobi is magnificent in this underplayed role. The role could easily be consumed by his bumbling, but Jacobi keeps the role "real" and not a caricature. This is a great show of 12 or 13 compelling episodes, whose excellence is proved by the fact that multiple viewings of individual episodes yield rich rewards and the show maintains its thematic, character and plot potency from viewing to viewing.
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For people who like history and detective programmes.
mb-1554 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
We have watched this series a few times as we bought all the DVDs. Virgin in the Ice is our favourite and one to be watched on a very cold winter's day. There are knights recently returned from the Middle East, some of which have turned bad, together with a 'bastard' good knight. There are two Queen Maud fugitives being chased by some of the nastier knights. There is even a frozen body to be thawed out. A monk is under threat. The new Sheriff Hugh Beringar is the best of the three people who get to play this part. Brother Jerome is typically awful while the new Abbott is worldly wise. If you could only watch one episode of this special medieval whodunit set in and around an Abbey let it is this. We always light a roaring fire to go with it!
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a bit disappointed
Ladyofgondor629 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
To be honest I was a bit disappointed. Maybe it is, because I love the novels so much. The costumes and sets are really great, but the actors (better said most of them) don't fit! A lot of them don't even look a single bit like the persons Elis Peters described so wonderful in her books. If you only take Hugh Beringar! Second thing is, that there were made too many changes (like at the virgin in the ice, when other persons become involved in the case who had nothing to do with it in the books.). One big plus is D. Jacobi who does one more time a magnificent job and there are also some nice guest stars, but comparing movies and books the movies are also a bit boring. The dramatic moments of the book are left beside here so often and you don't suffer with the characters as much as you did in the novels. Maybe if the episodes had been longer and there had been more time to show what was described so perfectly in the books it had been different, but so, I really can't recommend the movies to those of you who had read and loved the novels. For those who don't know Elis Peters amazing works the movies can be an entertaining journey to the middle ages.For me I have to say: After seeing the movies I keep on reading my novels!
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Wonderful series, wish it lasted longer
TheLittleSongbird15 July 2011
I love the books, and thought Cadfael did a more than fine job with them. On its own merits too, Cadfael was wonderful. My only real complaint is that I wish it lasted longer than 13 episodes.

I just love the authenticity of the settings, photography and costumes, and the beautiful, haunting music that remained true to the music of the time. The writing is excellent, never stilted and always thoughtful, while also managing to stick to the spirit of the prose of the books, and the stories are beautifully structured and always interesting, likewise with the characterisation. The acting is wonderful especially Derek Jacobi, although Jacobi is such a brilliant actor who rarely disappoints I will always consider Cadfael one of his best roles.

All in all, I wish it lasted longer than it did, but Cadfael is wonderful all the same. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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