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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Cadfael - Set 1
Cadfael - Set 1
Acorn Media // Unrated // January 6, 2004
List Price: $59.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted November 27, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

Cadfael: Set 1 packages together the first four episodes of the British television show, starring Derek Jacobi in the title role as the mystery-solving Benedictine monk. These episodes, which originally aired in 1994, constitute the full first season of the show.

"One Corpse Too Many" is the very first Cadfael episode, and it starts off on the right foot. Unlike many of the later episodes, this one gives a clear indication of the time (late 12th century) and political climate, with King Steven and Empress Maud battling it out for recognition as the rightful ruler of England... and as is usual in the case of civil wars, it's the common people who suffer. "One Corpse Too Many" also does a good job of showing Cadfael's background as a former soldier in the Crusades, and of introducing the character of Berengar, who will be a recurring figure in later episodes.

"The Sanctuary Sparrow" has Cadfael defending the innocence of a traveling juggler who is accused of murder and seeks the sanctuary of the Abbey. In the course of investigating the crime, Cadfael uncovers another murder. The Abbey is once again the center of attention in "The Leper of St. Giles." An aging baron is slated to marry a wealthy young girl, but he mysteriously disappears before the wedding, leaving Cadfael to figure out what's going on.

Lastly, "Monk's Hood" wraps up the season with a story that brings a conflict between Cadfael's past and present. The Abbey stands to inherit a large estate, but the landowner is murdered, with his soon-to-be disinherited stepson as the prime suspect... and the widow is Cadfael's long-ago sweetheart, whom he had promised to marry when he returned from the Crusades. It's an episode with all the elements that would become typical in later Cadfael stories: the convoluted plot with multiple suspects, and the conflict between Cadfael and the other monks who don't approve of his detective work.

The mysteries themselves are moderately entertaining, as long as you're willing to suspend disbelief when it comes to the frequency of mysteries that just happen to occur around Shrewsbury Abbey, requiring Cadfael's assistance in solving the crime. Each of the four episodes runs 75 minutes, which tends to draw them out just a bit longer than I find necessary; those who enjoy the setting and overall ambiance of the series, though, will probably not object to the slow pacing.

Cadfael's rather modern outlook on life may also offer a slight sticking point in the believability of the show, but it's not overdone; after all, monks were the source of a lot of innovation and creative thinking in the Middle Ages, and Cadfael himself is presented as a well-traveled man with a lot of life experience, which in his case has led him to have a very good insight into human nature. I find the character to be a bit of a stretch, but not too much of one. Considering that the rest of the setting and the other characters' attitudes are very much in keeping with the times, Cadfael ends up being a reasonably historically accurate program.

In addition to Cadfael and Berengar, we get to see other recurring characters among the monks of the Abbey. I've never found the other monks to be particularly well-drawn as characters, and it does get a bit repetitious to see yet again how Cadfael comes into conflict with his superiors as he attempts to solve the mystery of the week.

Viewers who enjoy Set 1 will also be pleased to know that Set 3 and Set 4 are also available on DVD.

The DVD

The four episodes in Cadfael: Set 1 are packaged in individual keepcases, which are stored inside a paper slipcase.

Video

The image quality here is about par for the course with the Cadfael episodes; they're watchable, but nothing more. Presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the episodes have a generally soft appearance due to the graininess of the image and the appearance of edge enhancement. Dimly lit scenes suffer in particular, as the dark areas look grayish rather than black, and the lit areas are even grainer than usual. There's some variation in the image quality among the episodes, with some, like "The Sanctuary Sparrow," having muddy colors and heavier edge enhancement, and others, like "Monk's Hood," looking much better and offering natural colors and decent contrast.

Audio

The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is satisfactory, presenting the dialogue clearly and with a clean, noise-free sound. The theme music sounds pleasant as well, and is appropriately balanced with the rest of the track.

Extras

A minor assortment of special features is included. Each DVD has a short section of audio-only comments from Derek Jacobi; each touches on different subjects as Jacobi discusses his experiences with the series. "One Corpse Too Many," "The Leper of St. Giles," and "Monk's Hood" also include production photo galleries. All four discs also include filmographies, a biography of Ellis Peters (whose books the Cadfael episodes are based on), and a list of the Cadfael books.

Final thoughts

All in all, Cadfael: Set 1 is sure to please regular viewers of the series, and is probably the best single set of Cadfael episodes. I find the Cadfael series to be watchable but not really outstanding, so I'd recommend watching at least some of the episodes before buying the DVDs. Rent it.

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