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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 23 August 2016
Cadfael’s Shrewsbury looks nothing like it should. OK, so it would be impossible to film in the wonderful country town today, but the choice to go to Hungary to shoot the series means that the landscape – and even the plants – are not redolent of England. And Shrewsbury itself often seems deserted.

But my most scathing criticism of the TV adaptations is that Derek Jacobi eschews a Welsh accent. Because Jacobi does not employ one, when other Welsh people make negative comments about the English to him, viewers might wonder why they had done so, assuming Cadfael to be English.

Nor is Jacobi as Cadfael as bulky as Ellis Peters describes him. I imagined a Welsh Brian Blessed in the role, as that is how I see him in the books. (In interview Jacobi admits he thought he could not play the role as his physical description in the books did not fit him.)

There is so much that is wrong or questionable in historical terms in these TV adaptations. In the first season we have dining chairs like caveman Chippendales, large windows with curtains, doors with windows, fireplaces and chimneys, staircases with bannisters, small notebooks, and perfectly sawn wood. This is supposed to be the early twelfth century!

Admittedly, the anachronisms did get better with each new season, but the damage was already done in terms of its credibility. In season two a witness in the countryside refers to seeing the victim at around six o’clock (a laughable statement that actually comes from the book). The best episodes for me was the last, ‘The Potter’s Field’, the only one directed by a woman. It was less formulaic and worked at a different pace. ‘The Pilgrim of hate’, another season four episode, was good too.

It seems churlish to complain too much, for great efforts clearly went into the production and there is much that is right. For instance, the architecture of the abbey is generally correct and I liked the wall-paintings in the abbot’s lodgings. But the series continued to reduce the roles of the Prior and Brother Jerome to cartoon characters Moreover, the closeness in the books between Cadfael and Hugh Berengar (Sean Pertwee was the best) is lost on the screen, a point made by Derek Jacobi in interview.

The series is interesting for fostering young stars who have later matured into more famous roles: actors like Toby Jones, Natasha McElhone, and Richard Bonneville. Young male actors such as Steven Macintosh, Jonathan Firth, and Jonny Lee Miller had prominent parts. And it was a bit of a coup to get the likes of Ian McNeice and Julian Glover to appear in season two. But come the third and fourth, money must have been tight as there were few stars of note.
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on 22 May 2013

I picked up the first of the Cadfael books `A Morbid Taste for Bones' by Ellis Peters (a pen name of Edith Pargeter) in 1977 at the bookstall on Paddington Station and read the volume through on the journey down to Penzance on the Riviera Sleeper and subsequently purchased each new volume as it appeared.

As you would expect from the author, the stories are historically accurate and set in the middles years of "The Anarchy", the Civil War of Succession between King Stephen and the Empress Maud and are located in and around Shrewsbury Abbey where Cadfael is a Benedictine monk and herbalist. Interestingly, many of the characters that appear in the story were real historical personages, not just key figures such as King Stephen and the lords of his court, but both abbots that rule during Cadfael's time at the Abbey of St Peter and St Paul, Abbot Heribert (1127-1138) and Abbot Radulfus (1138-1148), are real historical figures as is Prior Robert Pennant (1148-1167 who succeeded Radulfus some time after the last of the Cadfael Chronicles.

Many books, particularly historical romances and mysteries, do not translate well to adaptation for television but the Cadfael stories certainly were the exception to the rule. The series starred Derek Jacobi as the detective Welsh soldier turned monk and ran to thirteen episodes in four series between 1996 and 2000, and were mostly filmed on location in Hungary. The attention to historical detail is good, as you would expect with an historian of Edith Pargeter's calibre regularly on set, and although the stories have been adapted and edited for television most of the tales are fairly close to the original books.

Jacobi makes an excellent Cadfael, although I would have preferred to have seen the great Philip Madoc transfer his radio interpretation to the television series and is ably supported by a cast including regular appearances by Eoin McCarthy as Hugh Beringer, the under sheriff of Shrewsbury, another real historical character; and Michael Culver, Julian Firth and Mark Charnock as members of the abbey community.

I missed all four series when they appeared on television in the late 1990's although I later bought a set of VHS recordings and have now upgraded these to this DVD box set which is remarkably better than the VHS tapes which were really not terribly good. This series is one of my wife's favourites and we have watched the episodes through many times always with great enjoyment. It is such a pity that the missing seven episodes were never made due to budget cuts at the time as these productions really were excellent viewing.
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on 2 March 2014
a long time back I read several Ellis Peter's Cadfael books and also watched some of the original TV series but it was only when I started to watch the recent re-runs on the Freeview Drama channel that I remembered just how good the TV series had been. Unfortunately the Drama channel bangs in a 3 minute ad break in what seems like every 5 minutes and it really spoils the pacing of programme. Buying the box set, especially at the bargain price it was offered at, was a perfect solution. You could describe Cadfael as a mediaeval Miss Marple or Poriot but this would be selling it short. There is a lot more character complexity in Cadfael than you normally get in the usual murder mystery drama. It's also quite brutal in places, it might not but quite up there with Ripper Street but when people die violently it's not glossed over. It also gives a window of sorts into a period of English history that most of us now very little about. Derek Jacobi is brilliant and you can have fun spotting minor cast members who have since gone on to make it big. Only a pity that they didn't make more.
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on 5 September 2014
I love Cadfael! The DVDs closely follow the books written by Ellis Peters, although are not in the same order, so it was a shame only 13 episodes were made (there were 20 books). Derek Jacobi is a superb actor and plays Cadfael exactly how I imagined him from the books. Cadfael was a soldier, who came back from the Crusades, so is a man who has been in the "outside" world, before entering the cloisters and becoming a monk, albeit occasionally a quietly rebellious one. When deaths occur, in and around Shrewsbury where his abbey is located, Cadfael is the man who investigates them.

He aids and is aided by Hugh Beringer, who becomes sherriff of Shrewsbury: over the four series, Hugh is played by three different actors, which is a bit off-putting, but you soon forget, as Jacobi stays constant throughout.
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on 5 June 2018
I missed part of the series when it was televised so was delighted not only to see those episodes I'd missed, but to watch again those I'd enjoyed before. Derek Jacobi is excellent as Brother Cadfael & the whole production has been made with thoughtfulness & a regard to the period of time in which it is set.
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on 9 March 2018
My favourite detective series - the wonderful Sir Derek Jacobi at his best, playing a crime-solving Benedictine monk during the reign of King Stephen. So glad it came out on DVD after the series ended, as I never tire of watching it. Great value.
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on 7 June 2011
I saw the first series when it was originally broadcast on TV, but was put off during the second series by the preview comments by an anchor ahead of the broadcast of one of the episodes (A morbid taste for bones). Many years later, re-reading the books, I decided to see if the show was available on DVD and bought the set.

Inevitably, a TV drama is going to be different from the books, and that is the case here. I do prefer the books, but I think most of the casting here is excellent, particularly Derek Jacobi, and they bring the characters to life. Sadly, the one case that disappoints is Beringar; for whatever reason they had to use three different actors across the series, and to my mind, John Pertwee, who plays the part in the first series, is by far the best. Also, it is sad that the relationship between Cadfael and Beringar, built up in "One corpse too many" is not developed in the TV version although it is a very important theme running through the books.

But I'm definitely pleased I bought the collection. It's enjoyable TV Drama, and importantly, the commentaries by Derek Jacobi in the extras section under each episode are a true bonus. Enjoy the series, but definitely buy the books too!
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on 26 June 2016
Whilst possibly tongue in cheek in some ways, this drama captivates and draws you in.It takes you back to the medieval times when life was brutal, and trial by ordeal and combat were used to mete out justice. I cannot help but watch it over and over. Derek Jacobi plays the most marvelous, multi-talented detective and healer.
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on 14 February 2014
We had recently caught an episode of Cadfael on a Freeview channel, years since we watched it on terrestrial TV so decided to see if there was a box set.

Cadfael, is a herbalist monk from the 12th Century, brilliantly played by Derek Jacobi. Once a Soldier in the Crusades before being 'Called to God' by the Benedictine Order, he is often consulted by the Under Sheriff (only law in the area). Cadfael uses primitive forensic skills to help solve crime and see justice done.

Wonderful atmospheric depiction of Shrewsbury and the rather hard and sometimes brutal life of a town on the Welsh Border during a civil war. It also depicts the power of the church at that time, and squabbles between its hierarchy.

Every episode has been a joy, my only complaint is that there are arent any more!
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on 16 January 2014
If you like a thinking person's programme or entertainment, then CADFAEL is for you. He's a Medieval detective, CSI and pathologist all rolled in to one. He uses his extensive knowledge and observations both of his fellow human beings, crime scene examination, knowledge of pathology and plants (aromatics) to solve clues to murders, and yet this man is a Catholic brother. Such a thing was common in Europe at the time; worldly men and women who, for one reason or another, left civilian life to take up the religious one. Some of the actions that Cadfael takes in this series would never have been allowed strictly, in monastic orders, but that's poetic license. After all, this isn't strictly speaking, pure Medieval history; it's one female writer's vivid imagination. I found it interesting and thought provoking observing Cadfael solve each mystery.
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