For years, my friend Ruth had been telling me to watch Foyle’s War: that its recapturing of the WWII era in Britain was perfect; that its characters were thoroughly enjoyable; that even the clothes would nab my attention – basically, that it was precisely my cup of mysterious tea. This past year or so, I finally had a chance to take up her suggestion. Was she ever right!
I can’t recommend this program enough! It may be my favorite of the classic-era mystery series! The stories are clever and keep you guessing, but they always make sense in the end. Better yet, the series deftly draws on historically accurate – and not always widely known or acknowledged – issues around which to craft the mysteries: Fifth Columnists, Fascist agitators, black market crime, a disastrous (and true) practice Normandy invasion turned slaughterous debacle, S.O.E. machinations at home as well as abroad, the unjust and brutal harassment and even internment of resident Germans in England, the treatment of soldiers invalided out of service for physical and mental wounds – you name it. The program provides quite a history lesson.
Best of all are the characters. There’s the smart and straightforward (or blunt) Sam Stewart, who acts as Detective Chief Superintendant Christopher Foyle’s driver as a part of Women’s Service, now that the male drivers are off fighting. As played by the refreshing Honeysuckle Weeks, she might put her foot in her mouth or get herself into a scrape on occasion (that’s what keeps up the suspense!), but her sharp observation and knowledge of people in Foyle’s cases, as well as her intrepidness and sense of justice, usually are pretty darn helpful, even vital. Inspector Paul Milner is Foyle’s second in command, who reluctantly rejoins the constabulary after being invalided out of the war for losing his leg. Starting out as bitter and struggling to fit back in, even almost sucked in by the convincing sympathy of some high-toned Fascists (though they’d never give themselves that name outright), he gradually grows into his work with intelligence and integrity.
Speaking of integrity, there’s Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle. At first, frustrated at not being allowed to contribute directly to the war effort, he works his way through solving crimes with patience, quiet observation, and subtle but firm prodding. No one says more to an audience with a deliberate, reflective squint of the eye, a slight crease of the brow, or a quiet but determined drawn out, “Yup” or “Nope.” Michael Kitchen is magnificent in the subtlety and clarity of his understated acting. During the war, the wealthy, the aristocratic, the politically powerful try to pressure him into letting slide their own and their favorites’ trespasses against decency and the law, running roughshod over the less powerful, but he quietly, emphatically does what needs to be done. In the final seasons, his navigating Cold War plots, betrayals, and brutalizing of the citizenry is an amazing thing to watch. Fox Mulder could take a lesson from Foyle on dealing with government conspiracies without getting tainted.
The costuming, props (e.g. cars, air planes, er aeroplanes, telephones, etc.), and setting are right on the money. I love to pick out which outfits I would like to wear – and the cut and material seems to jive nicely with the rationing limitations constraining some classes but not other during and post War. An interesting note on the hats! I observed that most of them, except for the cases of privileged women, seemed to be produced from the same mold , with only differences in color or an occasional but slight design variation. At first, I thought the costume designer was trying to save a buck, um quid, through mass production. However, my readings in 1940s Fashion, the Definitive Sourcebook (Dirix & Fiell), made me realize that the quid-saving mass production was a historically accurate move, mirroring the mass production dictated by rationing and shortage in the era. Finally, consider the settings. Most of the program was filmed in Hertfordshire to effectively recreate the feel of a seaside town and the surrounding countryside during the war, whether it be the physical layout of winding, closely walled streets, neat houses and tough slums, or the rugged farms and elegant estates. Later episodes’ evocatively recreate the bombed out desolation of London, still struggling after the war’s end. This program is a must. You can find out more about Foyle’s War on IMDB and PBS. The program is available through Netflix, Acorn Streaming, and on dvd. Watch it!
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