Show name: Foyle’s War
Release date: 2002
Genre: Murder mystery
Starring: Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks, Anthony Howell
Created by: Anthony Horowitz
I love murder mysteries and I find the Second World War period fascinating, so it isn’t an accident that I’m a fan of Foyle’s War.
The first season in the eight-season series is set in May to August 1940, a period of great anxiety in Britain about whether the Germans would launch a land invasion.
Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) is pressing his superiors to let him join the intelligence services when war breaks out and he is told that he’s more valuable where he is in the police force as a detective.
He acquires a replacement to his usual sergeant in the form of Paul Milner (Anthony Howell), who has recently been on active service in Norway and is now recovering from the loss of one of his legs at Trondheim.
Foyle sees that Milner will put his wartime sacrifice behind him more effectively if he has something to throw himself into, and he involves Milner in an ongoing case.
Foyle’s dislike of driving means that he also acquires a driver, Samantha Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks).
The trio develop into a strong team during their first case: that of the gruesome murder by garrotting of a local landowner’s wife.
The landowner is played by Robert Hardy, so there’s quite a feel of an ensemble cast even at this early stage.
The location-filming at a beautiful country house rather plays into the assumption that everyone in England lives in either a castle or a country house.
I didn’t mind that so much, and the series has a feel of something that has been structured to appeal worldwide. It has sold very well in Europe, North America and Africa.
Foyle’s War made a point of addressing uncomfortable truths about the English class system, which may partly explain its popularity.
This first episode addresses the ability of the gentry to obtain misplaced exemptions for their own friends and families from the requirement that enemy aliens are interned on the grounds of national security.
This is contrasted with the internment of innocent Jewish refugees who happen to be German citizens and the fatal consequences for their health.
By the second episode, Foyle’s War is in full swing. The series in set on the south coast, a smart choice given that this was assumed to be the likeliest landing place for any German invasion.
The early seasons are set in Hastings, a seaside town long associated with land invasion of the British Isles courtesy of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Foyle’s War addressed black-market activities and profiteering during the war years head on. It also featured more reflective issues such as conscientious objection.
In the third episode of this season, ‘A Lesson in Murder’, a conscientious objector is sent to prison for his beliefs and is later found dead in his cell.
One of the things I liked most about Foyle’s War was how it never shied away from difficult subjects.
Time and again it insisted that war was never an excuse for turning a blind eye to crime or allowing those in positions of influence to get away with abusing the situation.
Foyle’s War is also a wonderful series for the depth of its subtle characterisation, led by Kitchen as Foyle. Whether in single appearances by characters whose tale is told in one episode, or in the recurring characters such as Foyle’s son, the viewer sees many aspects of the conflict brought to life.
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