The Pilgrim of Hate is one installment in the Cadfael Chronicles, a BBC television series based on a series of medieval mystery novels penned by Ellis Peters. The setting is twelfth-century Britain, and particularly Shrewsbury Abbey, where the sharp-witted (and sharp-tongued) Brother Cadfael (Derek Jacobi) often finds himself at the center of mysteries that need solving. In this episode, the Abbey is full of crippled pilgrims who have come for a holy day festival in hopes of being cured by the relics of St. Winifred. But the discovery of the murdered body of an old man puts a dark taint on the events, and as Cadfael investigates, he finds that the tale is more twisted than even he might have expected.
Based on the Peters novel of the same name, The Pilgrim of Hate is the final episode of the television series, being one of three episodes aired in the fourth season, 1998; the other two from that season being The Holy Thief and The Potter's Field. The series involves several evidently recurring characters, such as Father Abbot and the sheriff, along with the newly-introduced characters for each episode. It's not necessary to have seen the previous installments in order to follow a particular episode, though it probably adds something to the experience.
The series creates a fairly convincing medieval world in visual terms, with costuming and sets looking quite authentic. In The Pilgrim of Hate, we see that the pilgrims could be quite a rag-tag bunch, including a few charlatans thrown into the mix, making their profit off the overly credulous by selling a never-ending supply of "holy relics."
The characters themselves are a bit harder to get a grip on. Do the characters accurately represent their genuine twelfth-century counterparts? Certainly some aspects of human nature are universal, but would it have been realistic to find as humane and scientifically-inclined a figure as Cadfael? Actually, it's possible. Monasteries were, in medieval Britain, havens for producers of literature and academic thought; think of them as proto-universities (in fact, the upper classes might send their sons to a monastery for their education, even when the son was not destined to take vows as a monk). The character of Cadfael, then, is not typical, but not anachronistic, either. In fact, in The Pilgrim of Hate, we can see how Cadfael fits into his time: he evidently shares the basic beliefs of his fellow monks, while at the same time having a critical eye for human nature and the way the world works. The combination makes for a credible character as an "amateur detective" in that setting.
The Pilgrim of Hate runs an hour and fifteen minutes, and it's reasonably entertaining. I found the story to be interesting and generally well-paced, but as a mystery, it lacks a certain something; the central puzzle and the attempts to unravel it are simply not particularly gripping. I was as interested in the fate of the secondary characters as I was in the resolution of the murder case.
Acorn Media presents The Pilgrim of Hate in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The main thing that I noticed about the image is that it's extremely muted: across the spectrum, colors seem drained and lacking in vibrancy. The result is an image that lacks the vitality that it should have had. Other than that, the picture is generally satisfactory. It's not as sharp as I'd like to see from a fairly modern production, but the print is clean and free of noise or artifacts.
The Dolby 2.0 track on this DVD delivers the goods that it's supposed to. Dialogue is clear and always audible, and the music, which is nicely themed to the setting, is balanced well with the other elements of the soundtrack.
The special features on The Pilgrim of Hate add a touch of flavor to the DVD, nothing more. There's a short text segment on author Ellis Peters, and an audio-only excerpt of an interview with Derek Jacobi. It's fairly brief, but contains some interesting insights from Jacobi on working in film, television, and theater.
Taken on its own merits as a mystery, The Pilgrim of Hate is not outstanding, and I'd recommend renting it first to see if you like it. Those who enjoy the Cadfael series for its cast of characters and general storytelling, though, will find this DVD a welcome addition to their collection, and should consider it recommended.