Saturday, May 01, 2010

No More Bombs, But Still Bombshells

Like many other fans of TV mystery series, I was saddened to hear in the summer of 2008 that Foyle’s War--the World War II-era drama starring Michael Kitchen as a steadfast and charismatic police detective in southeastern England--would no longer be shown after five seasons on the air. Produced by the UK’s ITV and carried in the States by PBS, the show’s 90-minute episodes were particularly well-scripted (primarily by author-screenwriter Anthony Horowitz), integrating plots rife with devilry, deceit, and persistent greed into the broader backdrop of a bombarded, beleaguered Britain. However, Foyle’s War also benefited from having three continuing characters who boasted emotional gravity as well as intriguing back stories: not only Kitchen’s Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle, a fairly solitary widower with a dashing young son in the Royal Air Force; but also Honeysuckle Weeks who played his driver, the resourceful and mischievous vicar’s daughter, Samantha “Sam” Stewart, and Anthony Howell as the more restrained Detective Sergeant Paul Milner, a policeman who has returned to his former occupation after losing a leg in the Allied defense of Norway.

Unfortunately, ITV complained that staging this period police procedural was too significant a drain on its bottom line. So it was decided that Foyle’s War would finish with an episode (“All Clear”) set during the concluding week of the fighting on the British Home Front in 1945. And then the series would itself disappear into history.

Things didn’t quite work out that way, though. Viewership for those concluding episodes was especially high, persuading ITV execs that it would be a smart idea to revive the series. Within just a couple of months of the supposed finale of Foyle’s War, Ms. Weeks told Britain’s Daily Mail that negotiations were underway to bring Foyle, Stewart, and Milner back for more.

The first of three new, postwar installments of Foyle’s War will air tomorrow night, Sunday, May 2, as part of PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery! series. The show begins at 9 p.m. ET/PST on PBS. Two additional episodes will be broadcast on May 9 and 16.

As we rejoin the story, VE Day has come and gone, and so has much of the confidence in Britain that conditions will soon return to normal. Food shortages and other privations persist, families are still struggling to recoup after being torn asunder, and postwar poverty has brought an escalation in crime rates. More than ready to start afresh, the UK electorate has turned out the man who led them through the fighting--Prime Minister Winston Churchill--and replaced him in the 1945 general election with Labour Party leader Clement Attlee.

Meanwhile, after having maintained law-enforcement in the coastal town of Hastings, even as greater crimes were perpetrated on a worldwide scale, DCI Foyle is ready to do some moving on of his own. He’s determined to retire, to give up tracking killers and other malefactors in favor of wetting a fishing line, imbibing his share of good malt whiskey, and visiting America. At the same time, Sam Stewart has taken on duties as the housekeeper and secretary to Sir Leonard Spencer-Jones, an eminent local artist, and Milner has accepted promotion to the rank of detective inspector in nearby Brighton.

Tomorrow night’s episode, “The Russian House,” focuses on Russian soldiers who, at the height of the recent hostilities, switched to the side of Adolf Hitler’s Nazis rather than continue serving with the forces of the Soviet Union, a country allied with the UK. Following the war, such collaborators captured by the British Army were shipped back to England for processing and return transit to their home country. But rumors are circulating that this repatriation will result in execution for the soldiers, rather than family reunions. If they want to live, it’s said, the only hope for the Nazi collaborators is to escape to sanctuary at London’s mysterious, anti-Soviet Russian House. One such ex-soldier has been working on Sir Leonard’s estate. When he escapes in the wake of the artist’s slaying, he naturally becomes suspect number one in the crime--and it’s up to Foyle, with Sam’s assistance but some unexpected hindrance from DI Milner--to identify the real murderer.

The second episode is even more fascinating than the first. Titled “Killing Time,” it puts Hastings at the center of racial tensions facing U.S. soldiers returning from the battlefields. Prior to World War II, you’ll remember, the American military was segregated, just like most of the United States itself. African Americans could serve in the armed forces, but they were assigned duty mostly as truck drivers and stevedores, and there were pitifully few black officers. Not until 1948 did President Harry Truman, a child of the segregated South, order that the military be integrated. In “Killing Time,” it’s still 1945 and black GIs streaming through Great Britain on their way stateside chafe at being restricted from local clubs, especially when British law allows for no such discrimination. However, a black soldier named Gabe Kelly has fathered a child with Mandy Dean, a white Hastings girl who’s been banished by her family as a result of that birth and has moved into the rooming house where Sam Stewart now works. With animosities peaking, a murder is committed, and DCI Foyle must wrestle with military authorities to untwist the web of evidence suggesting Kelly’s guilt.

Finally, episode three of this new series, “The Hide,” finds Foyle retiring at last, only to become consumed by the case of a young man, James Deveraux--the scion of a distinguished local family--who’s on trial for having joined a German SS unit composed of British volunteers. Strangely, Deveraux refuses to defend himself, leading Foyle to suspect that there’s more to this case than anyone understands. Although it’s not clear at first why Foyle takes such an interest in Deveraux’s predicament, we eventually come to understand that he has a sad personal stake in the matter. There’s a personal stake, as well, in this episode’s parallel story, which has Sam and Adam Wainwright, the proprietor of the rooming house where she works, defending that property against developers who wish to raze it and many other Hastings abodes in order to construct new housing units for returning soldiers. If Sam and Wainwright needed anything else to convince them that they belong together, this fight against “progress” may be it.

There’s a strong suggestion in “The Hide” that this is not the ultimate appearance of Foyle’s War; there are simply too many questions deliberately left unanswered, especially regarding the former DCI’s purpose in traveling by sea to America. (Might it have something to do with a previous investigation?) Given the strong comeback of this award-nominated show, and the fresh story lines opened by the new life trajectories of its main characters, I won’t be at all surprised to hear sometime soon that Season VII is in the offing.

Let’s hope.


Naomi Johnson said...

I can hardly wait to see this tonight. Thanks for the information. Mr. Foyle is a great favorite of mine.

pattinase (abbott) said...

He's one of those actors you would watch in anything.

Scott Parker said...

If it weren't for "The Dark Knight," "Foyle's War" would have been the best thing I watched in 2008. I saw all the DVD collections that year. Simply the best BBC production I have ever seen. I have marked this on our family calendar since the day you, Jeff, posted of the airing. 8pm CST cannot come fast enough...

Bruce said...

Havng watched all three from this new series it does a fine job of giving each character a nice ending. With a nice little suprise in the final one which gives a little suprise to Foyles earlier life.

John N. Wall/Photographer said...

Great to have this series back, but there is a major plot flaw in this new series. At the end of the previous "final episode," Sam was all set to marry Foyle's son Andrew. Now, only a few months' later in plot time, Andrew is nowhere in sight, Sam is at loose ends and looking very forlorn, and a new romantic interest pops up for her. I can't imagine any son of Folye's acting like such a cad. No fair!

AndyDecker said...

It is a wonderful series. I only wanted to sample the first episodes and ended up buying all collections, including the new ones.

There is something mesmerizing about Foyle and his quit manner. And the period is so well done.

Anonymous said...

what book did foyle give deveraux in prison? greatly appreciated as no longer have it on tivo.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Dear Anonymous:

In "The Hide," Foyle actually gives Deveraux a stack of two Penguin paperbacks in prison, but the only one the viewing audience can see is a copy of Evelyn Waugh's 1928 novel, Decline and Fall.

I hope that helps.