Aug 20
Wednesday

Issue XII, Volume V : August 2014

A Movie You Gotta See, with Robin Russin

FoylesWar Foyle’s War
Created and Written by Anthony Horowitz
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This month’s movie you gotta see isn’t a movie, but instead what might be the best TV detective series you’ve never heard of: Foyle’s War. Produced by Britain’s ITV somewhat sporadically between 2002 and 2010, conceived and written by Anthony Horowitz, the show is set in the rural, coastal town of Hastings, and follows the work of an understated English detective and his colorful crew as World War II overwhelms Britain. Horowitz is a prolific writer in many fields, including many children’s books and a number of other TV detective series such as Poirot and The Midsomer Murders. It appears that he’s going to be writing the next Tintin movie, to be directed by Peter Jackson. In any event, Foyle’s War is generally considered to be Horowitz’s best work so far, and that’s saying something.
 
The series came about because a number of other police procedurals were finishing their network runs, and ITV put out the word that they wanted a new one. They got something like three hundred pilot submissions. Foyle’s War (originally titled The Blitz Detective) was the one they chose. With dozens of murder-mysteries under his belt, Horowitz persuaded them that this was a chance to do something new, a series that was about more than just “the butler did it” and where solving the crime is really just the excuse for a deeper and more meaningful human drama. The human drama involved exploring some of the many dark as well as heroic moments in the war at home (Britain in this case), and the larger story grew to be about courage, resilience and the redemptive quality of love. From the painstaking research of the period - both real crimes that occurred, and the war itself - to the tight, warm, Foyles-War-001ironic vignettes, to the depth of character and the superb quality of the acting, this series is simply addictive. Get the whole series on DVD (it’s available on Netflix) and you’ll be tempted to stay home and watch the whole thing straight through. But then, you’d be done with it all too soon. Each episode took five weeks to shoot, and each season is a mere three or four episodes.
 
What’s really nice is that we’re not trapped in a time bubble, as if the war is just a constant, unchanging present tense. The series starts with the beginning of the German blitzkrieg bombings of England, well before the United States entered the war, and then evolves as the war runs its course and finally ends. The pilot introduces Foyle, played with delicious subtlety by Michael Kitchen, a widower and veteran of the First World War who feels that his policing duties are almost ridiculously inconsequential in light of the larger threat from Germany. But he is simply too good at his job for his superiors to allow him to be reassigned to other work.
 
Needing a driver, Foyle is none too pleased to discover that the Military Transport Corps soldier assigned to him is in fact a young woman, Sam (Samantha) Stewart, played with star-making charm by the perfectly named Honeysuckle Weeks. She’s pretty, spunky, nosy and garrulous, and Foyle can’t stand her at first…until she proves to be far more capable than expected. Foyle also finds work for Milner (played by Anthony Howell), a young man who’s returned from the front with a leg blown off. Milner’s wife can’t handle his disability, and he’s nearly given up on life, but he agrees to Foyle’s offer. This act of generosity rewards Foyle as Milner becomes a devoted and intelligent junior officer. Meanwhile, Foyle’s son Andrew, a handsome young devil attending college at Oxford, is called up for service in the Royal Airforce. The pilot pulls no punches, showing how the British bitterly turned on the German residents among them, even their former friends, and how even at the start of the war a black market for exemptions from military service had emerged. A Nazi bomb nearly kills Foyle himself and takes the life of a young village girl; the story then turns to focus on the subsequent murder of a German-born woman married to a local gentleman, apparently a revenge killing. There’s a wonderful supporting performance by a very young James McAvoy as the dead girl’s sweetheart.
 
Foyles-War-1_0 Subsequent episodes skillfully weave together both small-time crimes like black market sales of food rations, valuables stolen from bombed-out buildings, sexual secrets and betrayals, and the trade in illegal moonshine, with larger issues such as espionage, code breaking, treason, murders of various stripes, and the arrival of the brash American GIs – which the British experience as a kind of invasion. All of the crimes are based on documented incidents, and are set against real developments in the war. Foyle also faces the agony of seeing his son assigned as a bomber pilot in one of the most dangerous divisions of the RAF, and we follow Andrew’s own struggles with combat fatigue, along with his growing attraction to Sam. Foyle, meanwhile, also comes to love Sam as if she were his own daughter, and Milner as if he were a second son. Much of the series is devoted to the tensions that make good people do bad things, elevate bad people to positions they don’t deserve, create or destroy friendships, and test everyone’s morale as the world seems to be falling apart. The show pays careful attention to the toll the war placed on other returning veterans as well, from having to go through then-unprecedented reconstructive surgery to confronting PTSD and a changed world back home. But there are also lovely moments involving daily life apart from crime and the war, such as when Foyle escapes to the countryside to go fly-fishing, or when Sam attends a local dance, or as Milner deals with a failed marriage but also finds the hope of a renewed relationship with an old girlfriend. The world and era are so skillfully evoked that you feel these people are real, that you know them and care for them and could perhaps visit them if you ever made it across the pond.

Foyle’s War
has been on American PBS occasionally. It is simply wonderful, steeped in history, filled with exceptional characters and stories, and that’s why it’s this month’s must-see.

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RobinRussin Movie Review Editor, Robin Russin