Brother Cadfael (Derek Jacobi),
the herbalist of Shrewsbury Abbey, knows very well that monk's hood oil is a
soothing ointment when applied to the skin... but a deadly poison when a few
drops are placed in a victim's meal. When a local man turns up dead, the
question is which of the several potential killers had both the means,
opportunity, and motive to turn a healing potion into a murder weapon? In Monk's
Hood, Cadfael, the 12th century's version of Sherlock Holmes, is determined
to track down the truth about the killing, to save not only the life of an
innocent man but also his own honor as a medical man.
Monk's Hood is one
episode in the Cadfael Chronicles, a BBC television series recounting
the adventures of Cadfael, a fictional character in a fairly realistic medieval
setting. Based on the 1980 novel by mystery author Ellis Peters, Monk's Hood
was broadcast in 1994, during the Chronicles' first season.
Monk's Hood is mildly
entertaining, but it never really offers anything to sink one's teeth in. As
one of the first Cadfael stories to be written, and then filmed, it's not
really the fault of Monk's Hood that it contains a number of elements
that would be overused in later episodes; in fact, for a viewer watching the
episodes in sequence, the story would probably seem perfectly sound. But after
having seen a number of later Cadfael episodes before viewing Monk's Hood,
I found that the main problem with this episode is that it treads some very
well-beaten plot paths.
There is, of course, the identity
of the killer, and true to form, there's an obvious suspect. But we viewers
know perfectly well that in the Cadfael universe, the obvious suspect is the
one man who must be innocent. So the mystery revolves around Cadfael (as usual)
working to convince others of the need to investigate more closely. Then we get
the complication that the Father Prior is sick of Cadfael meddling in affairs
outside the abbey, and orders him to mind his own business. Obviously, Cadfael
doesn't do so (if he did, there would be no story!) and just as obviously, the
conflict between abbey rules and Cadfael's determination to find the truth
takes up part of the story. It would be a more interesting story thread if it
weren't so predictable how it would end... do any of the viewers really think
Cadfael will get kicked out of the order? I didn't think so.
Apart from the overused
framework of the story, the plot of Monk's Hood isn't bad, but it's not
one of the better episodes, either. The final revelations did come as a bit of a
surprise, at least, even if the lead-in wasn't as involving as it might have
Monk's Hood, like the
other Cadfael episodes, is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. In
the past I've noticed some unevenness in the transfers of the Cadfael DVDs, so
I'm pleased to report that Monk's Hood is satisfactory. Some noise and
edge enhancement is present, but it's not too distracting. For the most part,
the image is clear and detailed, with good contrast and natural-looking colors.
The primary colors seen in the episode are browns and grays, but this is a
consequence of the realistic costuming and sets of the series; medieval monks
weren't exactly snappy dressers.
The Dolby 2.0 track for this
episode is handled quite well, with the dialogue always being completely clear
and understandable. The musical score is appropriate to the time and place of
the story, and accompanies the action well, never being overbearing.
The same basic special features
appear on Monk's Hood as on other Cadfael releases. Of most interest is
a short audio interview with Derek Jacobi, in which he discusses his
perspective on the character of Cadfael. A small behind-the-scenes photo
gallery has shots of Ellis Peters' visit to the set. There's also a section of
cast filmographies, a biography of author Ellis Peters, and a list of the
Monk's Hood made a
rather tepid impression on me. Fans of the series will want to pick up the
episode for completion's sake, and will likely find it reasonably entertaining.
Those who haven't had seen any Cadfael episodes yet may find A Morbid Taste
for Bones or The
Potter's Field to be better