Ellis Peters came up with a great character in the shape of fifty something medieval benedictine monk Brother Cadfael who out Columbo’s Inspector Morse when it comes to detective work. Set in 12th Century Shrewsbury (but filmed in Budapest, a very popular spot for UK film crews filming period pieces, thanks to low costs and plentiful vintage looking locations), the books were prime candidates for a TV adaptation, especially in the early 1990’s.
Derek Jacobi is tailor made for the role of the tonsured sleuth whose special knowledge of herbs and suchlike add a touch of forensic skill to proceedings too. Opening with the excellent one corpse too many which sees the town of Shrewsbury under a heavy seige during the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud and an extra body turning up after a mass hanging, Cadfael is wonderfully realised, the producers actually built a medieval town in Budapest complete with a small scale River Severn and the quality really shines through.
The casting is top notch too, Sean Pertwee is a regular in the first season as Sheriff Hugh Beringer (he was later replaced by Eoin McCarthy) as is the brilliant Terence Hardiman as Abbot Radulfus, there are also some high quality guest stars popping up including the likes of the gorgeous Anna Friel and ex Coronation star Roy Barraclough. The period setting means this hasn’t dated a jot of course and with its big budget gloss could have just been made.
The series was made up of feature length 90 minute episodes with each season being pretty short, often only three or four per year. The show looked very realistic, especially in the pre Game Of Thrones era but in the end suffered at the hands of the schedulers who left long gaps between seasons and showed episodes at different times and so on.
UK / ITV-Central-Carlton / 13×90 minute episodes / Broadcast 29 May 1994 – 28 December 1998
Creator: Ellis Peters / Music: Colin Towns / Producer: Stephen Smallwood
DEREK JACOBI as Brother Cadfael
TERENCE HARDIMAN as Abbot Radulfus
MICHAEL CULVER as Prior Robert
JULIAN FIRTH as Brother Jerome
SEAN PERTWEE as Hugh Beringer (1994)
EOIN McCARTHY as Hugh Beringer (1995)
MARK CHARNOCK as Brother Oswin (1994-95)