Gervase Bonel (Bernard Gallagher) has gifted his manor at Mallilie to the Abbey. In return, he’s given a small house, close to the abbey grounds, and his needs (such as food) will be attended to by the brothers. To give up so much could be seen as a generous gesture – but Bonel doesn’t appear to be a generous man. He’s bad-tempered and lecherous and it looks as if he’s ceded his estates to the Abbey in order to spite his step-son Edwin (Jonny Lee Miller) who would have inherited them.
Within a short while, Bonel is dead – poisoned by a dish sent from the Abbey kitchens. Cadfael is disturbed to discover that the poison came from his stores – Monk’s Hood. Monk’s Hood is completely safe when used as a liniment – but if ingested it is deadly. The fact that murder has been committed with something prepared by his hands makes Cadfael keen to find the culprit. Edwin is named as the most likely suspect, but Cadfael isn’t convinced.
This isn’t the only surprise he faces though – as Bonel’s wife Richildis (Mary Miller) was betrothed to him many years ago. When Cadfael left to fight in the Crusades, they lost touch and Richildis later married another. After her first husband’s death, she married Bonel and now she pleads with Cadfael to clear Edwin’s name.
Monk’s Hood was the third Chronicle of Brother Cadfael and was originally published in 1980. In book order, it followed on from One Corpse Too Many and this adaptation is able to keep a key element of the ongoing story intact. This depicts Abbot Heribert’s (Peter Copley) departure to London, where he’s called to account for his stewardship of the Abbey during the recent siege of Shrewsbury by King Stephen. Because Heribert was slow in allying himself to Stephen’s cause, there are many (including the Abbot himself) who believe he’ll be stripped of his responsibilities.
With Heribert away, the Abbey is left in the care of Prior Robert (Michael Culver) and his slimy acolyte Brother Jerome (Julian Firth). The uneasy relationship between Cadfael and Robert from the books is transferred perfectly in this, and the other, adaptations. Robert dislikes the freedom that Cadfael enjoys and is keen to clip his wings at every available opportunity. Usually, he’s unable to – but now he’s in temporary charge he wastes no time in telling Cadfael that the matter of Bonel’s murder is nothing to do with him.
Cadfael, of course, will take no heed. His initial meeting with Richildis is tender – and she seems to still have an affection for him that is more than pure friendship. Whatever his own feelings are, his duty to his vows comes first (witness the moment when she places her hands on his face and he gently takes her hands in his and removes them). These scenes give us an insight into the younger Cadfael and Jacobi is his usual impeccable self. Unfortunately, Jerome was witness to one of the meetings and he takes great pleasure in telling Robert and the other brothers …..
Once again, Cadfael was lucky in picking a good crop of guest actors who would go on to enjoy lengthy careers. Jonny Lee Miller (currently staring in Elementary) is the earnest young Edwin Gurney. To be honest, it’s probably not a part that’s particuarly high on his cv – as he’s rather flat and lifeless. Normally the young man accused of murder would be a central figure, but in this one he sits in the background a little more – as more of the focus is on Cadfael and Richildis. Another familiar face is Thomas Craig (a regular in Murdoch Mysteries) as Aelfric, one of Bonel’s servants.
Sophie Lawrence (a regular off-and-on in Eastenders) enjoys a rare role outside of the soap as Aldith, a serving maid who has to fight off the unwanted attentions of Bonel. And although Bonel himself only has a short amount of screen time, Bernard Gallagher certainly makes an impression. It’s not a subtle performance (he’s such an awful man that anybody watching the story with no prior knowledge would know for sure that he’s going to be murdered) but it’s quite entertaining nonetheless.
Cadfael eventually finds the murderer, but he doesn’t hand him over to the authorities. Rather like Sherlock Holmes, Cadfael is content to use his own judgement when deciding whether the law should take its course. In this case, Cadfael’s view is that the man’s actions were uncharacteristic and he informs him that his penance is to live a long life and do as much good as he can.
Cadfael’s constant flouting of the rules has appalled Prior Robert, but a new arrival stops him in his tracks. Heribert has returned with their new Abbot, Radulfus (Terence Hardiman). This is a severe blow to Robert, who obviously had designs on the position himself. Radulfus hears Robert’s complaint against Cadfael, but the new Abbot, like the old, is a man of wisdom and this means that Cadfael’s place is secure.
Monk’s Hood brought the first series of Cadfael to a close. The series would return with the snowy drama of The Virgin in the Ice.