TV: Foyle’s War

foyle1Mixing history, mystery, and memorable characters, Foyle’s War (2002–2015) is a classy British procedural that spans from the early days of the Second World War to its conclusion, and then onto the early stages of the Cold War. Detective Chief Superintendant Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) is a widower, a father, and a policeman in southern England, based in the city of Hastings. He’s also a veteran of the Great War, and if he had his way, he’d be doing his bit against Hitler as well. Unfortunately, his military enlistment is blocked by his superiors, who think he’s too valuable where he is. Foyle’s none too pleased with the arrangement, but he’s too good at his job not to carry it out, and with his driver Sam Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) and subordinate Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) by his side, he soon finds himself contributing to the war effort on the home front, one nefarious crime at a time.

Foyle’s War is classy, authentic, and cozy, an addictive, dark mystery series that builds its world convincingly and peppers its intriguing plots with interesting bits of historical detail. It develops and quickly perfects a winning formula: first, a picture is painted of its world, then a crime is introduced, then Foyle and his team are deployed to solve it. While that skeleton framework gets repetitive, it never fails to work, thanks largely to the chemistry of the heroes. Kitchen is especially good as the mysterious, understated Foyle, whose unassuming demeanor conceals both penetrating intelligence and a fierce sense of right and wrong—which often boils over in eloquent, brilliant argument when confronted with selfishness and injustice. Foyle’s subdued, bleak eye is countered by his underlings, especially good-hearted Sam, played winningly by Weeks. The father-daughter rapport between Foyle and Sam serves as the core of the show’s continuity as circumstances, characters, and world events swirl around them.

The first five or six seasons are superb, at once entertaining procedurals and insightful windows onto the era. As the war comes to a close and the series reorients in a logically different direction, however, it loses its hold slightly. Perhaps the long production gaps changed the flavor, or marred the actor continuity too much, and Foyle’s role in the proceedings feels rather reduced in these final years. I’m also disappointed they never quite developed Sam beyond her cheerful, occasionally clumsy persona as Foyle’s aide and sounding board. Despite this slight decrease in quality, the final couple of years are still quite good, and Kitchen’s memorable protagonist is ever worth the price of admission. Well worth a look, especially for fans of British period mystery.


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