Enjoyable revisit of the medieval detective series
"Decoding Cadfael" is essentially a series of recent interviews of people who worked on the thirteen-episode series as well as detective story writers and archive footage of the late Edith Pargeter, who wrote the books under the pseudonym of Ellis Peters. Her biographer is also featured and helps fill in the details that the author cannot. This programme does well to avoid interviewing 'celebrity fans' that ruin most retrospectives with their banality. The interviewees all seem to have fond memories of the programme, especially Sir Derek Jacobi, who clearly regrets that the seven remaining novels were not filmed. The one jarring note is writer Bert Coules who for some reason seems to be championing Philip Madoc for the role, which though he was admittedly excellent in the BBC radio version (that Coules adapted), it is a bit late in the day to recast the title character when the series ended prematurely in 1996. It is good to see the likes of Terence Hardiman, Julian Firth and Michael Culver whose appearances on television are sadly few and far between of late.
The narration is by Sean Pertwee, who not only seems to do the voice-over for a remarkable percentage of UK television documentaries, but also starred as the first four episodes of the series as Hugh Beringar, before unfortunately leaving the series. For these reasons the commentary is in safe hands, although his script is unfortunately a little repetitive thanks to the apparent need to reiterate a sizable chunk after each advert break.
The documentary mainly covers the difficulties they had to get Cadfael made. Edith Pargeter had problems in even getting the books published until Umberto Eco's fantastic novel 'The Name of the Rose' was brought to the big screen and suddenly medieval fiction became popular. Delays then cost them Ian Holm as the sleuthing monk as being slow to start production meant that he took on other projects in the meantime. Though much of the material had been revealed in previous interviews it is still an entertaining fifty minutes or so for fans of a detective that seems to have been unfairly forgotten.
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