McCallum: The Complete Collection – Simply Media DVD Review

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Running between 1995 and 1998, McCallum was a series that seemed to tap into various television drama trends of the period. Like Cracker it had an unorthodox lead, who (similar to Tony Clark in Between the Lines) was something of a hit with the ladies.  And like both those series, McCallum had an uncompromising, naturalistic feel.

Iain McCallum (John Hannah) is a brilliant forensic pathologist, albeit one with an independent streak.  It probably won’t come as a great shock to learn that he tends to butt heads with some of his colleagues on the police-force, especially the brusque DI Bracken (Gerard Murphy).  McCallum goes his own way and more often than not solves the crime all by himself (with the police trailing in his wake).

If this is something of a cliché, then so is the fact that McCallum often gets personally involved.  The pilot episode The Key to My Heart provides us with an excellent example of this.  After enjoying a night of wild passion with Claire Best (Cathryn Harrison), a police officer working with him on his latest case, McCallum is shocked the next day to be called to the scene of her murder.

With this sort of plot-twist you can either throw your hands up and decide that it’s all too unbelievable, or just decide to go with the flow.  As McCallum continues to keep quiet about his intimate link to the victim, Bracken starts to sniff around. There’s a nice feeling of tension as McCallum becomes more and more frantic as Bracken starts to apply the pressure.

Despite having a long-term girlfriend, Joanna Sparks (Suzanne Hamilton), McCallum seems to be a man who finds it impossible to resist any female that crosses his path.  When he meets up with Joanna the day after his liaison with Claire, he’s not able to bring himself to admit that he’s slept with her (whilst anxious to learn if Joanna has been with anyone during his absence).  Hamilton, who’d starred alongside John Hurt in 1984 and had been a regular in the 1993/94 series of Casualty, does her best, but unfortunately it’s rather a nothing role.

The morgue is packed with a number of characters, like Bobby Sykes (Richard O’Callaghan), Fuzzy Brightons (the always watchable James Saxon), head pathologist Sir Paddy Penfold (Richard Moore) and Dr. Angela Maloney (Zara Turner).  Angela, as an obvious romantic interest for our lead, quickly becomes the second most important character in the series.  City of the Dead, the first episode of series two sees her cause the death of an elderly man after she knocks him over in her car.  But as might be expected, nothing’s ever quite as straightforward as it seems …..

The first episode of series one, Sacrifice, sees Sir Paddy start to feel the strain (he’s turning up late for autopsies and when he does arrive he tends to make a hash of things). Given there was no hint of this in The Key to My Heart, it feels like a rather sudden plot-twist that comes out of nowhere.

Sir Paddy’s unreliability does allow for some decent character development for the other members of the team though. It had been established in the pilot that Angela had only recently moved to London and was feeling somewhat swamped by her responsibilities. She’s not an inexperienced pathologist, but Bobby is on hand to dish out some nuggets of wisdom (he tells her to hold her scalpel like a tulip).

These pleasantries are put on hold when McCallum and Angela are called to investigate the death of a local baker. No prizes for guessing that he and his family are known to McCallum. Jane Lapotaire adds a touch of class as the baker’s widow whilst Angela begins a relationship with a philandering Doctor (you just know this is going to end badly).

As the series wears on, McCallum begins to get a little frayed around the edges – this isn’t too surprising as he’s often placed right in the thick of the action.  In Dead but Still Breathing, he finds himself the target of a deranged killer whilst in Dead Man’s Fingers, McCallum is shocked to discover that a murdered woman claimed her unborn baby was his.

The final episode, Beyond Good and Evil, was rather unexpected.  Both McCallum and Angela had left, leaving a new man, Dan Gallagher (Nathaniel Parker), in charge.  Gallagher, just like McCallum before him, doesn’t have a quiet life (he’s being stalked by a deranged serial-killer).  Again, suspension of disbelief is required, but it proved to be a gripping finale to the series.  I’m not sure whether there was any intention to carry on with Parker, but maybe it was felt that the series had run its course.  I think it was the right decision.

McCallum is a nine disc set (original transmission dates in brackets) –

Disc One – The Key To My Heart (pilot, 28th December 1995)
Disc Two – Sacrifice (13th January 1997)
Disc Three – Touch (27th January 1997)
Disc Four – Dead but Still Breathing (10th February 1997)
Disc Five – City of the Dead (6th January 1998)
Disc Six – Harvest (13th January 1998)
Disc Seven – Dead Man’s Fingers (3rd February 1998)
Disc Eight – Running on Empty (17th February 1998)
Disc Nine – Beyond Good and Evil (7th December 1998)

The pilot runs for 75 minutes whilst the remainder are all 100 minutes approx.  Notwithstanding some gripes about the plotting, McCallum is an excellent series which still holds up well, some twenty years on.  With a strong cast of regulars and a number of twisty, atmospheric tales, it’s well worth a look.

McCallum was released by Simply Media on the 5th of September 2016.  RRP £49.99.

Liverpool 1 – Simply Media DVD Review

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Running for two series and a total of twelve episodes between 1998 and 1999, Liverpool 1 was a decent attempt to produce an edgy, non-London based police series.  Although The Bill (1983 – 2010) was still very popular at the time, its long decline had definitely begun (an over-reliance on the tangled love-lives of the boys and girls at Sun Hill was one reason why).

But whilst it was past its best, since The Bill was such a dominant presence during the 1980’s and 1990’s it meant that rival series often struggled to generate a distinctive feel and tone.  Some that succeeded, such as Between the Lines (1992 – 1994), did so by focusing on a specific area which hadn’t been examined in depth before (in Between the Lines‘ case it was the work of the Met’s internal Complaints Investigation Bureau).

Although Liverpool 1 has the feel of a traditional police series, from the opening scene it’s also clear that we’re operating in unfamiliar territory.  Our first glimpse of DC Mark Callaghan (Mark Womack) is highly instructive – we see him break into a flat and start an argument with its male occupant.   Callaghan then begins to throw the man’s belongings (including the television set) out of the window, before also throwing out the man himself.  There can be no clearer way of demonstrating that DC Callaghan is a loose cannon.  He’s a far cry from George Dixon (or even Jack Regan).

DC Isobel de Pauli (Samantha Janus) has recently transferred to Liverpool from the Met and is teamed up with Callaghan.  Their partnership begins as an inverse of the traditional “buddy” pairings of police shows.  Pauli is an experienced and capable officer, but initially she’s a little out of her depth – Liverpool has its own codes, traditions and criminal network which are a mystery to her.  It would normally be the job of her partner to instruct and guide her, but Callaghan is remote and unapproachable.

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The nature of Callaghan’s motives and loyalties are a major factor which help to drive the series.  As in Between the Lines, the division between the police and the criminals they’re pledged to catch is sometimes blurred.  Liverpool’s crime boss John Sullivan (Paul Usher) always seems to be present. He claims to be a legitimate businessman, but is that the truth?

Callaghan’s extended family comes into play. One of his brothers, Ian, is a priest whilst another, Patrick (Scott Williams), is not only a junkie but also acts as an informant.  Patrick’s evidence was supposed to put away Sullivan’s younger brother Mikey, but a procedural cockup meant that the case was dismissed.  With John Sullivan now threatening vengeance (a memorable low-key performance from Usher) this helps to increase the pressure on Callaghan, which is exacerbated after Patrick is shot and Mikey dies in Callaghan’s custody.  The revelation that Callaghan and Sullivan are “sort of” cousins just raises the stakes even higher and sets up one of the series’ running themes.

The developing relationship between Pauli and Callaghan is an intriguing one. Pauli is open and friendly whilst Callaghan is internalised and closed-off.  The “will they, won’t they?” question is inevitably aired.  Both are in relationships to begin with, but it wouldn’t be a complete shock if they did get together.  But there’s also a spark between Pauli and Sullivan, which doesn’t please Callaghan.  He bluntly points out to her just how vicious his cousin can be, although his own relations with him are sometimes cordial. Families can be complex ….

Although Callaghan and Pauli sometimes enjoyed a frosty relationship, it was a different story for Mark Womack and Samantha Janus.  They married in 1999 and are still together today (which is the reason why she’s credited on the packaging under her married name of Samantha Womack).

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In addition to Womack and Janus, Liverpool 1 has a strong supporting cast.  Tom Georgeson (a regular in Between the Lines) plays DI Howard Jones whilst Eamon Boland was another face familiar from previous police series (he’d appeared in The Chief).  Boland appears as Chief Inspector Graham Hill.  Andrew Lancel, who would later put in over a decade’s service in The Bill, has a non-police role as Ian Callaghan.  Paul Broughton and Katy Carmichael play the other two police regulars, DS Frank White and DC Joanna McMullan.  DS White is lovable but hopelessly disorganised (his inability to concentrate sometimes put the others, such as Pauli, in danger) whilst DC McMullan spends a large part of series one sniping at Pauli (although by series two this enmity seems to have disappeared).  The likes of Leslie Phillips, Ian McNeice, Del Henney and Victor McGuire make guest appearances although many of the one-off roles are played by less familiar television faces.

Apart from the continuing story of Callaghan’s clashes with Sullivan, one of the highlights of series one concerns the hunt for a missing boy.  George (Ian McNeice) is a convicted paedophile who comes under suspicion and is subjected to an intensive grilling by DI Jones. Both McNeice and Georgeson give stand-out performances.  The case sees Jones pushed to breaking point and Georgeson excels, especially towards the end.  The same episode sees Pauli attempt to forge a closer relationship with Callaghan by inviting him for supper with her and her partner. Neither are particularly keen, which infuriates her!

The second series has several intriguing plot-threads which develop over the course of the six episodes. Pauli is now single, her feelings for Callaghan are still mixed (to say the least) and John Sullivan wants to turn informer (or does he just want Pauli?).  The stand-alone plots are, like series one, concerned with the seamier side of life.  A good example is episode two, which sees piano teacher Peter Kitchen (Adrian Rawlins) accused of indecent assault by one of his teenage pupils, Simone Kelly (Rachel Townsend).  Pauli instantly believes her and disbelieves him, whilst Callaghan is more non-committal.  This once again shows a clear division between their characters – Pauli is instinctive and quick to react, whilst Callaghan prefers to be inscrutable and unreadable.  It’s another dramatic and powerful episode which serves as a fine vehicle for Janus.

Liverpool 1 never really seemed to catch the public’s attention and so it came to an end after only two series.  This was a pity, as Womack and Janus bounce off each other very effectively and they also interact well with the other regulars.

Liverpool 1 is released by Simply Media on the 15th of August 2016.  RRP £34.99.

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Cadfael – Monk’s Hood

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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.

Cadfael – The Leper of St. Giles

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The wedding of Baron Huon de Domville (Norman Eshley) and Lady Iveta de Massard (Tara Fitzgerald), due to take place at Shrewsbury Abbey, seems to be a very mismatched affair.

Huon de Domville is middle-aged and cruel (on the way through town he thinks nothing of whipping a number of lepers begging for alms) whilst Iveta is young, beautiful and loves another.  Her heart belongs to Joscelyn (Jonathan Firth), who works for Hugh de Domville as one of his squires.  But she is jealousy guarded by her aunt and uncle, Agnes and Godfrid Piccard (Susan Fleetwood and Jonathan Hyde), who take great pains to ensure she is never alone with him.

But the pair do manage to steal a few moments together (in the sanctuary of Cadfael’s hut).  Cadfael discovers them, but characteristically doesn’t give them away, since he’s concerned that Iveta is being forced into the marriage against her will.  Later, after Joscelyn is accused of theft, he’s dismissed from de Dornville’s service.

The next day, de Dornville doesn’t turn up for the wedding service and shortly afterwards it becomes clear why.  He’s found in the woods – murdered.  Joscelyn is the chief suspect, but there are others.  And a mysterious leper called Lazarus seems to have a part to play in this tangled tale.

The Leper of St. Giles was the fifth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael and was originally published in 1981.  There’s a familiar feeling to the story, not least because we once more see a pair of young lovers who find their union blocked for several reasons – mainly because the man is accused of murder. Coming back to these episodes after a few years it’s striking just how well cast they are.  Jonathan Firth (younger brother of Colin) is dashing and energetic as Joscelyn.  His tale of love certainly seems to strike a chord with Cadfael and though things look bleak for the young man, he’s lucky that the wily monk is on his side.  Tara Fitzgerald gives a suitably delicate turn as Iveta, seemingly doomed to a very unsuitable marriage.

Norman Eshley (as de Domville) looked quite familiar (although most of his dialogue seemed to be dubbed – possibly because of poor recording conditions on location?) but it took me a few moments to twig that he had previously played Jeffrey in George and Mildred.  I think it was his lack of hair that made the identification a little more difficult. Jamie Glover (the son of Julian Glover and Isla Blair) played another of de Domville’s squires – Simon.  It’s quite a good performance, and Simon appears to be a loyal friend to Joscelyn, but things aren’t always as straightforward as they seem.

Indeed, later on we witness another side of Huon de Domville – thanks to the testimony of Avice of Thornbury (Sarah Badel).  She was de Domville’s mistress for many years and paints an unexpected picture of him.  There was no particular sense of love felt by Avice towards him (theirs was strictly a business relationship) but he was considerate towards her.  After his death, she decided to become a nun – and her meeting with Cadfael is an interesting one.  Both are similar in many ways – as they came to the cloister after an active life in the outside world.

After Joscelyn is accused of the murder, he becomes a fugitive and is hidden in the leper-house by Lazarus (John Bennett).  In the book, Lazarus has formed a friendship with a young boy called Bran, and it’s Bran who acts as an intermediary between Iveta and Joscelyn.  He makes a brief appearance in the teleplay, but his role is virtually excised.

Another death follows (that of Iveta’s uncle Godfrid Picard).  Lazarus seems to be connected in some way and the story ends with a compelling meeting between Cadfael and Lazarus.  John Bennett was a quality actor (the list of his numerous credits bears witness to this) and he’s very good in this scene.  He was no stranger to acting in restricting make-up (for example as Li H’Sen Chang in the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang) and he has to do so again here.  For most of the time he’s masked – though we do see his face briefly (this is done to demonstrate to Cadfael that he can never return to his family – he maintains that his distorted features would repulse them). With such restrictions, Bennett has to make the character come alive with little more than his voice – and this he manages to do.  In the hands of a lesser actor we might have been invited to feel pity for Lazarus – but Bennett plays him with dignity.  It’s only a small role, but in the context of the story it’s a telling one.

The Leper of St. Giles is a story that fits the 75 minute running time well, as it doesn’t feel particularly compressed.  Strange dubbing is still a slight distraction though – my favourite is the character Jehan who speaks a line at 1:05:17 into the story.  He was clearly a local non-English actor later dubbed in the UK – as his mouth opens and closes in a rough approximation of the words spoken, but it’s pretty rough.  It’s just as well he only had the one line!

Cadfael – The Sanctuary Sparrow

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Liliwin (Steven Mackintosh) is a penniless jongleur who has been hired to perform at the wedding feast of Daniel Aurifaber (Hugh Bonneville).  When he is dismissed without payment, Liliwin leaves the house threatening vengeance.  Later, the head of the house, Master Walter (Roy Barraclough) is found unconscious and robbed.

it seems obvious that Liliwin is guilty and he’s pursued through the town by an angry mob.  He manages to reach the safety of the Abbey and once there he claims sanctuary.  He’s given into the care of Brother Cadfael, who takes an instant like to the young man.

Shortly afterwards, another member of the Aurifaber household is murdered.  Is the murder connected to the robbery?  And if so, how?  Cadfael and Beringar find no shortage of suspects in and around the Aurifaber household …..

The Sanctuary Sparrow was the seventh Chroncile of Brother Cadfael, originally published in 1983.  Like the other adaptations, it’s somewhat streamlined from the original book but it’s fairly faithful to the source material.  One slight difference is that here we see Abbot Heribert (Peter Copley) in charge, whereas in the book Abbot Radulfus leads the brothers (this was simply a consequence of the series adapting the stories out of sequence).

Copley’s terribly good at the start – in the dramatic scene where Liliwin, chased by a mob wielding flaming torches, claims sanctuary.  Even when Heribert has confirmed that Liliwin is now untouchable by the outside world for forty days, the mob still make moves to take him.  Copley (who was pushing eighty at the time) is able to impressively quell the rabble with a few choice words.

As touched upon previously, the Cadfael Chronicles more often than not feature a young man accused of the crime who Cadfael takes under his wing and eventually proves to be innocent (usually so he can marry another character featured in the story).  This one is no different and Steven Mackintosh gives a pleasing performance as the travelling player, Liliwin.  He can’t always be guaranteed to tell the truth though, and this does cause Cadfael to wonder if his trust is misplaced, but all is sorted out eventually.

His bride-to-be is one of the Aurifaber’s serving-maids, Rannilt (Sara Stephens).  Like several other actors, she was at the start of her career when she appeared here, and she’s very appealing as an innocent who finds herself in danger at the conclusion of the story.

Another actor making an early screen appearance is Hugh Bonneville (credited as Richard Bonneville).  With long hair and a beard, he’s pretty unrecongnisable and, to be honest, it’s something of a ripe turn.  His character, Daniel, is rather a boor and a rake (bedding every available woman in town, even though he’s a newly married man) and it’s not the most nuanced or convincing of performances, shall we say.

Much better is Fiona Gillies as Susanna Aurifaber.  Susanna has run the household for several years, but now finds herself displaced by Daniel’s new wife.  Gillies displays a calm control to begin with, but as events begin to spiral out of control she is able bring more of Susanna’s true nature to the fore.

All in all, this is impeccably cast (with more good performances from the likes of Rosalie Crutchley as the grand-dame of the household and Roy Barraclough as her money-obsessed son).  As ever, Jacobi is the glue that holds it all together – and we see Cadfael in full investigative mode (making deductions from the smallest traces).

A satisfying mystery.

Cadfael – One Corpse Too Many

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Between 1977 and 1994, Edith Pargeter (writing as Ellis Peters) penned twenty novels featuring the Crusader turned Benedictine monk Brother Cadfael. The Cadfael novels were set during the early part of the 12th Century, a period when England was divided by a bitter civil war fought between the Empress Maud and King Stephen.

Whilst the Cadfael Chronicles didn’t invent the historical genre of detective fiction (Peter Lovesey’s Victorian detective Sergeant Cribb, for example, first appeared in 1970) it’s fair to say that Peters’ books encouraged other writers to try their hand with historical detectives and the last thirty years have seen something of a boom in this genre.

The character of Cadfael himself is undoubtedly one of the reasons for the continuing appeal of Peters’ novels. When we first meet him, he’s a man in his early sixties and is obviously someone who’s lived a full and rich life before deciding that the world of the cloister was for him. Prior to this, he had been both soldier and sailor, fighting in the Holy Land.

His knowledge of the outside world tends to give him a broader outlook than many of his brothers (some of whom have little knowledge of life outside of the cloister) and his independent spirit tends to bring him in conflict with Prior Robert (as well as his obsequious shadow, Brother Jerome).

With such rich source material, it was inevitable that radio and television adaptations would follow. On radio, Cadfael has been portrayed by both Glyn Houston and Philip Madoc, whilst thirteen of the novels were adapted for the Carlton series, broadcast between 1994 – 1998, which starred Derek Jacobi.

For lovers of the original novels, the Carlton series can be a frustrating watch at times. Some stories are more faithful to the original source material than others, but it’s true that all of them lose out somewhat in the transfer from the printed page to the screen. Partly, this is unavoidable, as one of Ellis Peters’ strengths was her deft descriptive ability.

It’s hard to replicate her atmospheric prose style on screen (the radio adaptations retained it with the use of a narrator) so this ensures that all the television versions lack a little something. Also, Peters herself never made the claim that she was the greatest whodunnit writer – and after you’ve read a few of her stories, a pattern becomes obvious.

Most of them feature a young man and woman who meet and fall in love – but we see that their potential union is threatened (usually because the man is either suspected of the murder or is being hunted by the authorities for some other reason). You can tell that Peters was always kindly disposed towards them and eventually Cadfael is able to unmask the true murderer and see the pair off to safety. Other crime-writers (like Agatha Christie) would have been far more ruthless and nobody could be ruled out as a suspect (even the young lovers).

So if the mysteries aren’t always the strongest and the Carlton series could never hope to replicate the atmosphere of the novels, it was therefore essential to cast a strong actor in the role of Cadfael. Derek Jacobi, of course, fits the bill nicely. He’s never less than totally compelling and his commitment to the part is clear.

One Corpse Too Many was the second Cadfael novel, but it was the first set in Shrewsbury and also the first to feature Hugh Beringar, so it was an obvious choice to launch the series with. The first six minutes or so are rather stilted, but when Cadfael makes his first appearance things pick up instantly.

It’s a very efficient introduction for the character, as it clearly demonstrates exactly who he is, who he was and what he stands for. Cadfael is castigated by Prior Robert (Michael Culver) and Brother Jerome (Julian Firth) for his late attendance at Vespers. Cadfael explains that the Abbot gave him leave, as he was tending the sick. For Robert, devotions come first and the secular world is a very distant second. Cadfael has completely the opposite view – whilst he accepts his duties as a Benedictine monk, he also considers they have an equal duty to the world at large. This difference of opinion will drive much of the tension between Cadfael and Robert for the rest of the series.

Immediately after, we see Cadfael disarm a solider who had been attacking an unarmed man. It’s a moment invented for the series, but it works well as another shorthand moment to demonstrate that Cadfael is not only a man who will stand up for the underdog, but he also has the skills to do it.

The success of Inspector Morse in 1987 had an impact on all ITV crime series that followed in its wake. Before it aired, the two-hour (100 minutes excluding adverts) slot was seen as a risk. Until then, drama had tended to be broadcast in a one-hour (50 minutes excluding adverts) slots. Morse proved that audiences would stay with a two-hour drama if it was good enough, and many series that followed (the revived Van Der Valk, A Touch of Frost, etc) followed suit.

Cadfael had a ninety minute slot (75 minutes excluding adverts). This was quite unusual and it’s something of a comprise, I think. Had the novels been compressed to 50 minutes then far too much would have been lost, but there seems to have been concerns that 100 minutes would have stretched the material too far. One Corpse Too Many manages to be a reasonably faithful adaptation, but for those familiar with the leisurely original novel, it does tend to move at a breakneck speed.

The story opens with the aftermath of the siege of Shrewsbury. The town had declared its loyalty for the Empress Maud, but King Stephen’s forces were too strong and afterwards the King is totally ruthless – calling for all the rebels at the castle to be hanged.

Cadfael and the other brothers are given the grim task of preparing the ninety-four hanged men for burial. But as he counts the bodies he becomes perplexed – there are ninety-five and one of the corpses was clearly not hanged. He appears to have been killed and then placed with the others in the hope that nobody would spot the extra body. But Cadfael does, and he’s intent on bringing the murderer to justice.

One of the less successful parts of this adaptation is the introduction of Godric, who’s a young lad brought to help Cadfael. This isn’t really the fault of the programme though, as it’s plainly obvious that Godric isn’t a lad at all – she’s actually Godith (Juliette Caton), daughter of the rebel Fulke Adeney. In the book, Godric’s deception lasts a little longer (although not much) but here, Cadfael unmasks her instantly.  Characteristically, Cadfael doesn’t give her away – he has no allegiance to either Maud or Stephen, as he answers to a higher authority.

There seems to be a lot of dubbing in this story. Juliette Caton appears to be dubbed throughout as does Maggie O’Neill as Aline Siward. It’s possible to accept that smaller parts (such as the boy who appears at the end) might have been played by played by local actors (the series was shot in Budapest) who were then dubbed at a later date, but it’s hard to understand why some naturally-speaking English actors were dubbed. It’s a little distracting, especially when the two of them share a brief scene!

One Corpse Too Many is the only television story in which Aline Siward appears. She’s another casualty of the streamlining process – in the books she marries Hugh Beringar following the conclusion of the adventure and the pair become Cadfael’s close friends. Here, she vanishes, never to be seen again.

But Hugh Beringar does turn out to be a close ally of Cadfael’s in the years ahead, although to begin with he appears to be an enemy. Sean Pertwee played Beringar during series one (he was unavailable for the second series, so the role was recast). It’s a pity that he didn’t remain as there’s a nice rapport between him and Jacobi. The opening story puts Hugh in the middle of the action – he’s hunting for the treasure which was spirited away by the rebels (and Cadfael fears he’s also hunting for Godith). But Cadfael comprehensively outwits him and Beringar admits, without rancour, that he’s been bested (although it’s a pity that we don’t see him burst out with laughter when he realises that what he believes to be the bag of treasure contains nothing but rocks, as per the novel).

Although the story sometimes suffers from having to fit into the 75 minute format, it’s still a decent enough adaptation which benefits enormously from Derek Jacobi’s performance as the wise and wily ex-warrior monk.