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Brother Cadfael: Sets 2 & 3 (1994, 1995) – DVD Review

Cadfael Set 2
Cadfael Set 3 DVD cover art


Written by: Ken Grieve, Malcolm Mowbray, Rick Stroud & Herbert Wise
Directed by: Simon Burke, Russell Lewis & Christopher Russell, based on the novels of Ellis Peters
Starring: Derek Jacobi, Michael Culver, Julian Firth, Mark Charnock


  1. Exclusive audio comments by Derek Jacobi
  2. Ellis Peters biography and booklist
  3. Production scrapbook
  4. 3-disc sets, 1 episode per disc

Released by: Acorn Media
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A; presented in original full-screen TV format (1.33:1)

My Advice: Rent It.

[ad#longpost]Britain has a fine tradition of genteel female authors who write about people being stabbed, poisoned, and strangled. Another fine tradition is British television taking these tales of murder and mayhem and putting them on the small screen. An example of these traditions is Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael.

Brother Cadfael is a Benedictine monk of Shrewsbury Abbey, a place of prayer, healing, and industriousness. While his former life as a Crusader in the Holy Land has given him knowledge of herbs and the world in general, the quiet ordered life of the abbey is preferable to the middle-aged monk than the chaos of the battlefield. But with England caught up in civil war and man being a fallible creature, Cadfael must use his skills with the human body and mind to investigate the bloody crimes and the dark passions behind them that would threaten that order.

The Brother Cadfael series reminds me of a medieval Murder, She Wrote. This isn’t a criticism; Angela Lansbury’s appeal elevated the so-so mystery TV show into a popular long-running series. You watched the show for Lansbury’s performance, not the writing. Viewers even ignored the fact that this mystery writer kept tripping over dead bodies all the time. The same principle follows for Cadfael. Anyone who has seen I, Claudius knows Derek Jacobi is a gifted actor. If you’re not among those who have seen it, get up and right it. Now! Jacobi expertly portrays Cadfael’s balancing act between piety and pragmatism. The character sees his involvement in solving murders crimes as a holy act, even if he must get hip deep into worldly affairs. The murders involve the fate of a saint’s bones, the pursuit to gain a widow’s hand and her valuable property, and a conspiracy of nobles to gain power. In other words: sex, love, money, and revenge. It’s almost comforting to see that things haven’t changed all that much. But it’s the historical details in these stories and the fine supporting cast raise the series above the standard TV fare.

Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael

There are not a lot of features on the DVDs, however, to go along with the above average content of the shows. A biography and reading list for Ellis Peters is included if viewers are interested in reading the source material. Some production photos and some bios of Jacobi and some of the guest stars are on some of the discs, but not all of them. A brief separate audio commentary by Jacobi is also included, covering his thoughts on working in television, the role of Cadfael, and other subjects. Since each one is different, you have to get all of them to hear all of what Jacobi says. I don’t like the feeling that I had to buy all the collection just to get a complete feature. Rent and enjoy Brother Cadfael, but don’t bother buying them.

Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael

Buy Stuff
  1. Click here to buy Brother Cadfael DVDs from Amazon.
  2. Click here to buy the books by Ellis Peters from Amazon.