Rediscovering "Cadfael" (PBS Mystery series)

I only saw a couple of episodes of Cadfaelin the mid-1990s when it was running on PBS. But now that I’ve binged through just about all the British crime/cop/detective shows that Amazon, AcornTV, Britbox, and Netflix have to offer, I’ve circled back to this little gem. There were only 13 episodes all together :frowning: , and I’m almost done with them.

The wonderful Derek Jacobi plays Brother Cadfael, late of the Crusades who entered the monastery at age 40 after a full and active life. He’s now an herbalist, healer, and sleuth in an Abbey full of personality conflicts, squabbles, politics, and just plain human nature. He gets crosswise with the Abbott, much like modern amateur detectives who annoy the official authorities. He has a slow-ish Watson, and another monk is a pissy little nemesis. Calls to mind the Gilbert & Sullivan line, “When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery…” Just as in Cabot Cove, Maine, there are plenty of murders in the tiny hamlet of Shrewsbury. (Note to self: don’t ever invite Jessica Fletcher to… well, to anything!)

Cadfael is bright and clever, but he’s not a modern man. He’s not a scientific thinker. He’s a gentle character but with balls of steel when called for. Good with a sword. He comes by his powers of observation and analysis through years of worldly experience, including experience with women. In one episode, he meets a son he didn’t know he had, fathered with a Syrian women when he was in the Middle East during the Crusades. One of the recurring characters is a nun from a nearby convent who was clearly a past lover of Cadfael’s when she wasn’t busy being the mistress of a nobleman.

I’m fascinated by the Medieval period, because it’s one that we moderns cannot imagine (IMHO)–a time (in the West, that is) when the Church dominated everything, there was no secularism, and none of the scientific thinking we take for granted. God and religion (the Catholic religion) permeated everyday life at every level. As much as possible, the series adheres to that worldview. Is it any wonder that I’m enjoying a vacation from Today… back to a world where all people had to worry about was plague, Civil War, death due to minor infections, excommunication, and an eternity in the fires of Hell? How refreshing!

Anyone else familiar with this show?

Yes, it’s a good show and Derek Jacobi and the rest of the cast do a great job on it. There are a lot of familiar faces looking very young. My local library has the dvd, so I also got the chance to revisit it.

I loved Cadfael, and have fond memories of Sean Pertwee as the original Hugh Beringar. I wish there’d been more episodes.

Absolutely. Cadfael was a wonderful character and a darned good detective to boot. And Sean Pertwee was the best of the Hughs, the 2 after him were boring and one-dimensional in comparison.

I loved the little limp that Jacobi carried over from I, Claudius. :smiley:

I love the show (and even more the books it’s based off) - enough to visit the town a couple times now.

I just wanted to correct one misapprehension, though - although it doesn’t appear so to modern eyes, especially on a 90s BBC budget, Shrewsbury at the time of the Anarchy was not a “tiny hamlet” - it was a fairly large and important castle town, the home base for an important Marcher Lord.

The books are much better at giving you the idea of the size of the town- castle, abbey, farms, etc, and while the crime rate is high, it doesn’t seem quite so absurd. There are a lot of people coming from all over, from all classes.

And then there’s the one where the annual fair happens, which reminded me a bit of HH Holmes picking people off during the World’s Fair in Chicago.

Yes! Sean Pertwee. He’s the one whose face I recognised when I rewatched recently. He’s one of those actors whose name I can never bring immediately to mind. He looks really young in this show.

I could see a remake of this series happening one day, with someone equally distinguished, like Charles Dance, Peter Capaldi, or Bill Nighy in the role.

Have you watched Maigret with Rowan Atkinson?

or the earlier Maigret with Michael Gambon?

The earlier series (with Sean Pertwee) were easily the best. The later ones took way too many liberties with the story - to the point of inverting the hero and villain of The Pilgrim of Hate, for example. However, Jacobi was excellent in the role (despite what MarcusF thinks), and the visualization of the period flawless.
One of the things I love about the novels is how thoroughly they put you into that time and place. You get to see people - ordinary people - going about their business, living their daily lives, without making the mistake of giving them modern-day sensibilities. They are definitely rooted in their society, and you really get an understanding of that day and age.
(I suppose it was inevitable that I would have to weigh in on this thread!)

I’ve got the boxed set on DVD and watch episodes of it fairly regularly when I’m doing fests for various British actors.

Julian Firth – no relation to Colin, Jonathan, or Peter as far as I can tell. I love when he does his prissy little “I’m telling the Abbot on you” thing.

Yes, both series. Wish there were more of each.

Dominus vobiscum, Brother!

I love the occasional chanting in the series. I belonged to a choir years ago, and we sang Gregorian chant from Gregorian notation.

He’s such a fabulous whiny little weasel! You’re correct–no relation to the other Firths. I watch all of these British mysteries with the IMDB open on my kindle so I can check out the cross-pollination.

I stand corrected on the size of Shrewsbury. It just looked small because there weren’t any skyscrapers. :wink:

I’d total forgotten about the show. I didn’t realize it was only 13 episodes. I guess I’ve seen most of them but would enjoy a re-watch. I think I only watched them when I was visiting my parents when home from college.

And there are books! And my library has them! Well, they have three ebooks, five audiobooks. Do they really need in-order reading? If yes, I can supplement from Amazon.

Why can’t American TV be this cool?

Because we couldn’t stand for American actors and actresses to not look salon-fresh?

I hope all Derek Jacobi fans have seen him in the excellent film Dead Againwith Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.

Yes you should really. Particularly because a few books in, there is a big reveal connected with his past that affects Cadfael’s whole life.

I, too. When I went to an SCA meeting in Memphis, I wrote Ellis Peters and was told I could use the name “Cadfael”.
I enjoyed the books, so I’ll check out the TV programs.

Note how few episodes there can be in a “series”.

We recently watched The Split. Amazing show. 6 episodes.

As we watched the end I commented to Mrs. FtG: “No American broadcast network would ever consider running this show.” Even most cable networks would balk at airing something like this.

Almost anything with Nicola Walker is going to be worth watching. Cf. River (also 6 episodes).

And if a show goes on for a bit, British actors drop out to do other things which causes problems. So may as well just wrap it up.

Beware of faux-British shows. E.g., we are about to finish Safe, 8 episodes. Starring Michael C. Hall (a.ka. Dexter, David, etc.). A joint French/Netflix thing but set in Britain with the rest of the cast British. Including Amanda Abbington which is why I found out about this.

But it’s really infuriating. Lots of stupid stuff. We’re doing to Death March thing to just finish it. Egad. And Abbington’s hair isn’t a hair do. It’s just a mess. And she’s not the only one having a bad hair week. What is this???

Then in order it is!

Loved the series and the books. They led me to read more of Edith Pargeter’s work including The Brothers of Gwynedd even though I was hopeless with all the Welsh names. Really engaging historical fiction.