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
"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.
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
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
Viewers who enjoy Set 1 will
also be pleased to know that Set 3 and Set 4 are also
available on DVD.
The four episodes in Cadfael:
Set 1 are packaged in individual keepcases, which are stored inside a paper
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.
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.
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.
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.