TV Review: Foyle’s War (2002-2015)
Foyle’s War is an ITV period detective drama, set in Hastings, England, during World War II and shortly thereafter. The series ran for eight seasons with a total of 28 episodes. Initially canceled after the fourth series, fans revolted, and the public demand for the popular show was so fierce that four more seasons hit the screens.
Written and created by the man behind the perennially popular Midsomer Murders series, namely Anthony Horowitz, Foyle’s War runs essentially along the same Midsomer lines, just set during the war years, as opposed to present day. A cozy crime an episode with a strong, leading man as the series’ core.
The Dad of Detectives
The beating heart of Foyle’s War is Foyle – Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, played by Michael Kitchen – who dutifully, doggedly and determinedly continues doing his job as the world descends into war-induced chaos. He’s a man trying to maintain the controls of civil society, of justice, of morality, in a world gone mad. He is stoicism – in the good, Greek sense of the word – personified.
Foyle is aided and abetted in his crime-fighting by his intrepid, perky and rather emotionally effusive driver, Sam Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks), and the maimed war hero, Detective Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell). A vicar’s daughter, Sam is experiencing a newfound freedom and burgeoning independence through her war work. Milner is scarred from his wartime services, an amputee, and silently stews with bitterness and anger and regret, seeking meaning and a new way of being without a leg. Foyle recruits him for just that purpose, to give him a purpose.
Chief Superintendent Foyle is the Dad of detectives. He’s a man of honor and precision, of restraint and discipline. There are no superfluous words with this man. When he speaks – which he doesn’t always do, although his eyes and pursing lips speak volumes – it’s with gravitas, insight, sharpness and a wee bit of irony on occasion. Foyle is not without his dry ironic wit, although he rarely seems to laugh outright. He’s a sober, serious man, a man of integrity, and perception.
And never raising his voice, Foyle cautions, advises, counsels, questions, castigates, corrects and lays down the law. Foyle’s a dad. He really is a dad. Chief Superintendent Foyle is a widower and a single dad to the charming Andrew, whose enlistment in the RAF, is no small source of muted, outwardly repressed worry.
Can I just say right here and now how much I love Foyle?! Michael Kitchen is fantastic in this role, so much conveyed through silence and restraint. It’s truly a commanding performance he gives.
Crimes in a Time of War
Each episode is its own nicely contained crime story, with some incredibly talented guest stars. The list of guest-starring talent over the years is long. And for British period drama fans, Foyle’s War is awash with favorite actors (many before they made it big).
Two Doctor Who Doctors make appearances – a young David Tennant as well as Peter Capaldi. Meanwhile, a good portion of the cast from the BBC’s Persuasion (1995), including Amanda Root, Corin Redgrave, and Phoebe Nicolls, stop by. Furthermore, Bingley and Jane, Simon Woods and Rosamund Pike, from Pride & Prejudice (2005), show up. Even Tobias Menzies, Elliot Cowan, Laurence Fox, James McAvoy, Tim Pigott-Smith, are spotted. Then there’s Emily Blunt, Charlotte Riley, Sophia Myles, Phyllida Law – yeah, you get the picture. Tons of talented performers.
These characters are wrapped up in mysteries having to do with the repercussions of the war. There are opportunists aplenty, political corruption, mob violence against anyone Other. There’s sabotage and looting and arson and murder. There’s profiteering and racketeering and smuggling. Antisemitism, Nazism – it’s all there.
There’s even the Official Secrets Act. Foyle perpetually runs into censorship, into information above his paygrade, into official sentiments of “C’est la guerre…” Yes, the idea that war means compromise, that murderers should go free because they serve a military purpose, that rape should be hushed up because boys are just being boys and trained soldiers are needed. It makes for fascinating and thought-provoking viewing.
But what vaults Foyle’s War into even greater viewing is the attention to historic detail. The devil is in the details, they say, and this show often uses obscure details to further the plot, to set the scene for the crime. It’s rather educational viewing. For example, in preparation for an eventual invasion, street signs are removed and a man murders at the wrong address. Germans are rounded up and interned in camps as hostile aliens. People with Italian names are mobbed after Italy joins with Germany. Rations and the home guard and black-market goods.
Yeah, Foyle’s War explores the powder keg that is a society in a time of war. Overall, it’s really interesting and engaging and enlightening viewing. I can only highly recommend it.
And did I mention that I love Chief Superintendent Foyle?! You’ll come to love him too.
Where to Watch: DVD and Acorn TV.
Content Note: Rated TV-14, and that’s just for subject matter because there is really nothing to come after here. No sex, no skin, no gore, no swearing.
Photo Credits: ITV.
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