Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Cadfael (1994-98)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Cadfael (1994-98)
Central for ITV, tx. 29/5/1994-28/12/1998
13 episodes across 4 series, 90 mins, colour
Production CompaniesCentral Independent Television, Carlton UK Productions
ProducerStephen Smallwood
ScriptsRussell Lewis, Paul Pender, Ben Rostul, Christopher Russell, Richard Stoneman
Original novelsEllis Peters

Regular Cast: Derek Jacobi (Brother Cadfael), Michael Culver (Prior Robert), Julian Firth (Brother Jerome), Terrence Hardiman (Abbot Radalfus), Mark Charnock (Brother Oswin), Albie Woodington (Sergeant Warden), Eoin McCarthy/Sean Pertwee/Anthony Green (Hugh Beringar), Peter Copley (Abbot Herribert)

Show full cast and credits

Brother Cadfael, a 12th century monk of Shrewsbury Abbey, investigates murders and wrongdoings among the sacred and the profane.

Show full synopsis

Cadfael is one of the better examples of the detective series that owe their existence to the success of Inspector Morse (ITV, 1987-2000). Based on a popular series of novels by Ellis Peters, it featured the adventures of the eponymous 12th century monk, who after a lifetime as a soldier, lover and (unsuspecting) father, answers his religious calling to join a monastic order at Shrewsbury Abbey. Despite his life of contemplation, he finds it difficult to resist the lure of mystery and murder, which he encounters with alarming regularity.

The predictability of Cadfael is doubtless a major factor in its success, and the plot of each episode usually involves a murder that has an obvious (though innocent) suspect. A lynch mob pursues the suspect, whereupon he/she seeks sanctuary in Shrewsbury Abbey. Cadfael is then given two days to find out the truth before the scapegoat is handed over to the authorities, and he triumphs using an investigative method that involves herbal remedies, knowledge of botany, and the assistance of the Sheriff Beringar. This triumph is usually in spite of Prior Robert and Brother Jerome who resent Cadfael's worldly ways.

But however laboured the plot, there is more to Cadfael than the admirable cast of regular actors. The original novels were groundbreaking examples of historical detective fiction, and a number of Cadfael stories were published before Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose elevated the genre to literary fiction. Peters' attention to historical detail and careful recreation of the period is reflected in the best moments of the television adaptation. The later series develop the political detail introduced in the first episode, and the war between King Stephen and Maud frequently intervenes, as in 'St Peter's Fair', while the tensions between the Welsh and English feature heavily in 'A Morbid Taste for Bones'.

Cadfael contains the worst elements of the series that appeared in the wake of Inspector Morse: a funereal pace, some dreadful guest actors, and predictable plots. But the series benefits from its source material, and the mixture of detective story and period drama ensured a successful and fondly remembered run. Although there were a number of novels yet to be dramatised when the series ended, the makers stopped while they were ahead, leaving both fans and casual viewers happy that they had seen the best of the adventurous monk.

John Williams

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. A hostile welcome (6:02)
2. Columbanus' vision (2:41)
3. Confronting Columbanus (5:14)
Jacobi, Sir Derek (1938-)
Miller, Jonny Lee (1972-)
Central Independent Television