The British program Foyle's War
is turning out to be one of the most consistently good mystery series
that I've seen. Perhaps it's because each season has only four
feature-length episodes, meaning that each can be carefully
constructed and nicely polished. In any case, the third set of
Foyle's War continues the trend in Set
1 and Set
2: this is a high-quality series on all counts.
Foyle's War is an interesting
blend of historical fiction and traditional mystery. Set during World
War II, the program is moving gradually through the war years,
focusing on DCS Foyle's efforts to make a difference on the home
front, even as the war is going badly elsewhere. The painstakingly
accurate settings and stories transport us right into the middle of a
tense and difficult situation, and give us a compelling glimpse of
life under the constant dread of attack. Rationing, blackouts, air
raids, requisitioning of houses, and bomb shelters are all part of
the background to the stories here, and we get a sense of how the
characters feel unsettled and fearful about the future. That's just
the background, though: each episode tells an intriguing mystery
story. Each one relates in some way to the war, some directly, others
simply through the fact that the war effort pervades every aspect of
English life at the moment, making the series overall very
distinctive in its focus and flavor.
One of the most important
ingredients in a mystery series is the character of the detective,
and the performance by the actor in that role. I've found that the
detective character exerts a powerful influence on the program as a
whole. Even if the writing of the mystery plots is equal on other
counts, the degree to which I like and am interested in the detective
makes a big difference in how much I enjoy the program. If I dislike
the detective (as in A Touch of Frost), think he or she is
uninteresting (as in Hetty Wainthropp Investigates), or find
the detective to be too bland (as in Midsomer Murders), then
it's hard to really get hooked on the series. On the other hand, a
great character (like David Suchet's Hercule Poirot) becomes much
more than the "camera eye" for the audience: he becomes an
important part of the story.
With that in mind, it's clear to me
that Michael Kitchen's performance as Detective Chief Superintendent
Foyle is absolutely central to the success
of Foyle's War. Foyle is a complex character and an immensely
likable one: he's highly ethical and
devoted to the truth, but he also understands that there are many
shades of gray in between the extremes of black and white. Foyle is
also observant and brilliant... and a man of few words. That's a hard
combination to play, but Kitchen handles it extremely well. His Foyle
is understated but expressive, able to speak volumes with a single
look or a short comment. By the time we've gotten to this third
season, we know Foyle's assistant Milner, his driver Sam, and his son
Andrew fairly well by now, and seeing how these characters interact
with Foyle adds to the interest of the episodes as well.
The four episodes in Set 3 take
place in 1941, and offer the same blend of complex stories and
difficult ethical situations as the previous two sets. The set opens
with the excellent "The French Drop," in which Foyle's
investigation of a suspicious death puts him in the middle of a power
struggle between two military intelligence agencies. This episode
starts off with an intriguing situation and keeps the story unfolding
nicely from start to finish. "Enemy Fire" is more of a
traditional Agatha Christie-style mystery: about half of the episode
sets up a situation leading to a murder, with a number of suspects
all having both motive and opportunity for the deed. It's a bit
slower to get started than "The French Drop" but is
nonetheless quite entertaining. "They Fought in the Fields"
puts Foyle and Milner right in the middle of war-related affairs as
they capture a pair of German soldiers, while they also have to
unravel a local murder case. The set wraps up with "A War of
Nerves," as Foyle deals with an organized crime racket at the
same time that major events are unfolding on the continent.
Throughout all four episodes, we get
one of the greatest strengths of Foyle's War: the depiction of
conflicts of interest and difficult situations at all levels. Foyle's
relentless pursuit of the truth in his investigations often puts him
at odds with the establishment and the rich and powerful, who have
far less compunction about bending, breaking, or ignoring the law.
Foyle's War offers no easy answers, but by giving us a
sympathetic and interesting protagonist who struggles with these
issues, the series makes for a thought-provoking viewing experience.
All the episodes are presented in
their original 100-minute length, as aired on British television, not
the cut versions that aired in the U.S.
Foyle's War: Set 3 is a
four-disc set, with each episode on its own DVD and the whole
packaged in a glossy paperboard slipcase.
Foyle's War appears in its
original widescreen aspect ratio (1.85:1) and is anamorphically
enhanced. The image quality is excellent, with warm, natural colors
and a good handling of contrast even in quite dark scenes. There's
not even a hint of edge enhancement even in challenging high-contrast
shots, so while some of the shots seem a little bit soft, the overall
level of detail is excellent.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack does a
solid job of presenting the episodes. The dialogue is always clean
and clear, and the lovely theme music for the series is balanced
nicely with the rest of the track.
The first DVD, "The French
Drop," has a 24-minute "The Making of Foyle's War"
featurette that's reasonably interesting. Don't watch it until you've
seen "Enemy Fire," though, since the featurette actually
focuses on that episode and the clip at the beginning is a spoiler.
Each of the four DVDs also has a
selection of text information: production notes, reflections from
various cast members, historical background information, and cast
Foyle's War continues to
excel. In Set 3, we get four more feature-length episodes of this
acclaimed British mystery series, on a par with the excellent Set 1
and Set 2. Not only are the stories and characters compelling, but
the depth of historical research that goes into each episode, set in
England during World War II, means that we're also getting a lot of
insight into an important period in modern history. With this
high-quality content matched up with nice anamorphic widescreen
transfers, it's easy to give Foyle's War: Set 3 a "highly