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“Foyle’s War”–Crime Foiled

I am addicted to the series “Foyle’s War” (six extraordinary seasons –2002-2010–on BBC Television) now available through Netflix. Set in a small coastal town, Hastings, in Great Britain during World War II, a middle-aged police chief, Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (the underrated Michael Kitchen) assumes the responsibility of solving murders in the midst of the confusion of war.  While war rages around the world, perpetrators both civilian and military assume they can commit all sorts of heinous crimes with impunity:  murder, robbery, espionage, black market trade. Foyle has to fight his own war, sometimes losing to the military and political establishments who claim that national security is the higher moral standard, in order to seek justice.

Assisted by his young driver, the charmingly unconventional Samantha “Sam” Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) and Detective Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell), Foyle is resolute and tenacious in his commitment to justice.  In the process he is the target of enemies in powerful positions. Foyle argues that the victims of crime cannot be forgotten with the excuse that war trumps all other concerns. As one of the intelligence officers advises Foyle:  “War always hides a great many dirty secrets.”

The incredibly complex storyline never ceases to amaze me, in spite of some common elements that appear in each episode.  There is always at least one local resident who is working class and unaware of his or her vulnerable position.  At least one suspect, usually in a high position within a military or government institution, is either profiteering from the war or has some other heinous action to hide.  Occasionally, the suspect owns a factory or company supplying the war effort. Finally, there is the suspect you can’t figure out–honest or foul?

Creator and writer, Anthony Horowitz, has managed to present tightly woven murder mysteries against the backdrop of what appears to be authentic historical data of the Second World War.  Archival footage is sometimes intertwined with the crime-to-be-solved.  For example, in one episode, “The Casualties of War” (2007), the technology of the “bouncing bomb”, a military device used to destroy German dams for the British war effort, is carefully explained but not in a documentarian fashion.  This is concurrent with the murder of a young scientist in a laboratory where weapons development is taking place. These incredibly complex stories will keep you riveted to the TV or computer screen, as you try to solve the murder alongside Foyle, Stewart, and Milner.

Michael Kitchen is simply brilliant as the sharp, witty, sometimes acerbic, and infinitely perceptive Detective Chief Superintendent (DCS) Foyle.  Distinctly British,  DCS Foyle is always  courteous, with a fastidious punctilious style in speech and dress, never raising his voice or using a harsh word.  Only his hat or his eyebrow shifts position, and even that is almost imperceptible.

“Foyle’s War” is much more than a mystery series.  It is the classic conflict of the scrupulously honest hero outwitting morally vacillating superiors who wish the hero would just walk away. (The TV series “Colombo” is an obvious example of this classic figure).  It is an analysis of human nature as seen through the eyes of the humble but extremely confident Foyle.  He knows folly when he sees it, war or no war.  Only two characters never succumb to betraying their own integrity and self-worth:  Foyle and his trusted driver, Sam.  The others who have moments of weakness are forgiven. This adds, rather than subtracts from plot development.

Because of fervent demand, “Foyle’s War” will be produced again next year with three new episodes to savor.  They will be broadcast on Masterpiece Mystery, so watch this astonishing, intrepid series or watch it again to be better prepared for the next chapter of “Foyle’s War”.

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