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A 13-episode British series based on the Brother Cadfael murder mystery novels of Ellis Peters. It's rather unorthodox in its choice of setting: a 12th-century town somewhere near the Welsh border — a time of civil war, disease and strife, where Death is a frequent visitor. Many are those who would take advantage of this fact to conceal a murder. After all, who would notice one suspicious corpse amongst so many?
Brother Cadfael... that's who.
Cadfael is a middle aged monk who took up the cowl after abandoning the violent, passionate life of a soldier. It was in the Crusades that he learned how to fight with a sword, which he often wears under his robes during dangerous missions. Yes, he may have sworn off violence, but he knows enough about the world to know that his vocation alone will not protect him from dangerous men. Cadfael's keen senses, ability to communicate with people, and Encyclopaedic Knowledge of herbs and plants make him the perfect forensic expert — a fact which has not gone unnoticed by the local sheriff, Hugh Beringar, who often sends for Brother Cadfael whenever a mysterious corpse turns up in the town.
Sometimes Cadfael will just stumble onto a mystery by himself, but either way, once he gets put onto the scent, there's little anyone can do to shake him off. Derek Jacobi gives an excellent portrayal of the competent and compassionate monk in what is probably his best role since I, Claudius. Fans of history and/or mystery would do well to check this series out.
- Actually, I Am Him - Cadfael has a son who never knew him. They meet.
- Amateur Sleuth: Cadfael, especially considering the actual detective profession wouldn't be established for centuries.
- Technically subverted when the abbot (a legitimate authority) sends him to investigate crimes that will be prosecuted solely under canon law, involving abbey personnel on the monastery's own grounds.
- Asshole Victim
- The entire Aurifaber family (except the unwed spinster sister and her lover) in The Sanctuary Sparrow. Also, Brother Jerome.
- Nobody cries over Father Ailnoth, either.
- Benevolent Boss: Both of the abbots Cadfael served under were pretty nice guys who recognized his detective talents.
- British Series
- Butt Monkey: Brother Oswin, Cadfael's clumsy assistant who always had some sort of trouble befall him. (It all culminates in one episode where he gets simultaneously stabbed and framed for murder. Poor guy.) Most of this is due to him being a Composite Character of several of Cadfael's assistants and other monks from the abbey who didn't appear in other books.
- Cassandra Truth: Most every episode, Cadfael proves that the murderer was not who the Law thought it was. Despite his track record, though, no one believes him the next time around when he says that, yet again, they've arrested the wrong man.
- Clear My Name
- Control Freak: The prissy, toadyish busybody, Brother Jerome, who acts as Cadfael's main nemesis. Very few people in the Abbey like him, once when strangled nearly to death, even the usually polite Abbot Radulfus comments that they'll be spared his singing voice at Mass.
- Cool Old Guy: Brother Cadfael (durr it's Sir Derek Jacobi).
- The Coroner: This is Cadfael's role at the abbey (along with being the closest thing it has to a doctor).
- Corrupt Church: With a caveat, in that the church itself wasn't portrayed as any more corrupt than any other organization of that age, but many of its members did abuse their power, often doing more harm to their communities than good.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Brother Oswin occasionally gets a few CMOAs.
- Evidence Scavenger Hunt
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: An Excellent Mystery
- The Exotic Detective: A classic example of this.
- Fix Fic: One Corpse Too Many attempts to explain a Real Life Out of Character moment for King Stephen.
- Friend on the Force: Hugh Beringar.
- Inspector Lestrade: Hugh Beringar.
- Karma Houdini: Prior Herluin.
- Kick the Dog: Brother Jerome deserves everything he gets.
- Mauve Shirt - Gilbert Prestcote
- My Master, Right or Wrong - Olivier, at least in the books.
- Mystery of the Week
- Mysterious Past: More alluded to than secret; Cadfael is a former crusader with prodigious fighting skills. It's certainly not a secret in the Abbey and Cadfael is not shy from telling people his past. More often then not it makes the bullies back down and impresses anyone of a more militaristic mind.
- New Old Flame - Richildis, in "Monk's Hood"
- Not Quite Dead - Rumors of Julian Cruce's death are greatly exaggerated.
- Old Cop, Young Cop - Cadfael isn't a cop per se, but he is a detective (for all intents and purposes) and Hugh Berringar definitely qualifies as the Young Cop part of the duo.
- The Other Darrin: The actors for a few of the main characters were swapped out from season to season — Sheriff Hugh Beringar was most swapped of all, as a different actor portrayed him in each of the three seasons.
- Perp Sweating: In this unenlightened age, prisoners were usually tortured into confessions in ways that would make the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique look like Sunday Brunch, although Cadfael himself disdained such methods.
- Politically-Correct History: True to some extent, but not always in the ways viewers assume.
- Cadfael's view of the world is not anachronistic but neo-Aristotelian. Neo-Aristotelianism was a school of thought that arose in the Arabic-speaking world in the late 11th century; it stressed the use of logic and reasoning as opposed to the blind acceptance of authority demanded by orthodox Augustinianism. Anyone who spent years in the Middle East studying medicine as Cadfael did would have been exposed to the new belief system and might have adopted it.
- People tend to seem cleaner in the show than we would assume. This is sometimes politically correct history, especially in episodes where the poor are seen wearing sharply tailored clothing and with perfect straight white teeth. The rich, however, are generally portrayed accurately - even if the immersion bath was uncommon (and known to be dangerous!) in Real Life, the rich did wash themselves every day.
- Very few children die in early childhood in the show. This is insanely anachronistic, possibly the most anachronistic thing about the show, but it comes from the books themselves.
- Some critics have pointed out that most lovers in the show (and in the books) marry in their early 20s, which is supposedly very late by pre-modern standards. This is utter rot. The average age at marriage has not changed in England for centuries.
- Red Shirt - Brother Eluric