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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Cadfael - Monk's Hood
Cadfael - Monk's Hood
Acorn Media // Unrated // March 25, 2003
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted March 7, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

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 been.

The DVD

Video

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.

Audio

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.

Extras

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 Cadfael books.

Final thoughts

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 starting points.

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