Detective Chief Superintendent
Foyle (Michael Kitchen) doesn't want his job. It's 1940, and England is faced
with resisting an aggressive and powerful German enemy both on the continent
and potentially on home soil. Foyle would much rather be doing work to support
the war effort directly, but in the meanwhile, he takes his duties as a police
officer very seriously. For even though the nation's attention is focused on
the war, "ordinary" crime continues unabated... and a victim of murder
is equally a victim whether the murderer is a German soldier or a fellow
I was surprised to find that Foyle's
War is original for television, written by series creator Anthony Horowitz;
the stories have a substance and depth to them that I usually associate with
productions that are based on novels. Foyle's War – Set 1 includes four
100-minute episodes that each offer an intelligent, thoughtful, and memorable
story; this 2002 series shows that British television continues in its
tradition of finding outstanding mystery programming.
What makes Foyle's War such
an excellent series? A number of things. First off, the episodes feature solid
storytelling: an interesting, complex plot that develops consistently over the
course of the episode. The stories are intelligently told, and the plot
developments and conclusions manage to be both entirely believable and
"The German Woman"
sets up one of the recurring contrasts of the film, between the sacrifices
demanded of the ordinary person and the well-off (in money and connections).
Here, the combination of "enemy alien" regulations and general local
intolerance seem to have resulted in the murder of a German woman in an
otherwise peaceful Sussex town, but Foyle's investigation soon turns up more
suspects and a more complex train of events.
"The White Feather"
has Foyle encountering what could be a complex conspiracy, as a young girl
caught doing sabotage leads to a quasi-political group who could be just
expressing perfectly legal opposition to the war, or who could potentially be
dealing with the Nazis to end the war with a successful invasion of England.
"A Lesson in Murder"
opens with an ordinary suicide that's perhaps not ordinary after all, and a
death threat to a local magistrate opens a case for Foyle that's full of
strange goings-on. Foyle attempts to unravel a complex mystery in which it
seems everyone is hiding something; but who is hiding a motive for murder?
"Eagle Day" moves
slightly away from the style of the other episodes, with more of a conspiracy
plot than a murder investigation, though there is at least one murder involved,
as Foyle is called in when a man is found stabbed to death in the ruins of his
house after an air raid. The case leads Foyle far afield, to an art museum in
Wales as well as to secret operations of the Royal Air Force in his home town.
The first three episodes are
all extremely well done, with very interesting plots that develop continuously
over the course of the episode. "Eagle Day" is my least favorite,
which is to say that it's still a good episode, but it's not quite as
compelling as the earlier three, as its plot is somewhat more loosely
What gives the stories their
real substance, though, is not just the "whodunit" part: it's the
thoughtful approach to the human issues involved. The episodes uncover touchy
issues and face them squarely... and, unlike many shows, doesn't pretend to
have any pat, "feel-good" solutions. Foyle's world is full of pain
and injustice, and as a police officer, he generally encounters a situation
after the damage has been done. He has no magic wand to heal suffering and
right wrongs, but on the other hand, he can apply his intelligence and
determination to bring justice, at least.
We see that people don't change
their nature just because "there's a war on": the tension and threat
of the potential German invasion, and the air raids, brings out the best in
some, the worst in others, and for the majority, leaves them as before. Foyle
himself longs for "more important" work, directly related to the war
effort, but he finds himself with plenty to do on the home front, as the
inhabitants of England don't refrain from murder, theft, revenge, blackmail,
and bribery just because there's a war on. In fact, the unsettled nature of the
times seems to encourage anti-social behavior.
We see, too, the astonishing
ability of the average person to hate blindly, and his corresponding inability
to separate an individual from a group. Since England is fighting against the
Germans, all Germans become the enemy... even refugees who fled Germany because
they opposed that country's policies and were in danger of imprisonment or
death. Revenge is the order of the day: if the enemy army bombs a local
building, then punishment is extracted on an innocent who happened to have ties
to another country. While fighting to preserve democracy and freedom, the
rights and freedoms of many individuals were taken away in the name of the war
effort and national security. Necessary? Possibly. Disturbing? Absolutely: especially
in an episode like "A Lesson in Murder," in which we see the most
chilling reaction of all, that those who dared to raise their voices in
criticism might be brutally silenced... by fellow citizens if not by the
The most painful aspect of
watching these stories unfold in Foyle's War is not the acknowledgment
that terrible things were done on the Allied side as well as the Axis side of
WWII, but that the very same attitudes and reactions continue to take place
today. These issues are not particularly pleasant, but they are very important
to come face to face with in modern times just as much as in the show's 1940
As the title character, Michael
Kitchen is one of the strongest assets of the series. He is perfect for the
role, playing it in an understated but believable manner, bringing Foyle to
life as a distinctive individual. The character is extremely likeable, though
not perhaps in the typical way: he is forthright and direct, but also
soft-spoken and not given in the least to dramatics; he is exceptionally
honest, and clearly both intelligent and sensitive.
Beyond the intelligent stories,
the thoughtful approach, and Kitchen's excellent acting, Foyle's War is
fascinating in its authentic period setting. All four of the episodes take
place in England during 1940; while the stories generally focus on domestic
mysteries, the war is always in the foreground, with preparations taking place
all around. War movies and documentaries tend to focus on the front lines of
the war, but Foyle's War gives a vivid picture of what it must have been
like for the English at home, with the constant fear of German air raids (and
invasion), and precautions such as the blackout regulations and gas attack
drills existing side by side with people trying to get by in day to day life. Foyle's
War's 1940 setting is much more than just window dressing; the chaos and
disruption of the war effort, the tension and fear in the populace, the
uncertainty of the future all come to play in the stories that are told here.
Viewers will be pleased to know
that these are the complete, uncut episodes, as seen on television in the U.K.;
the U.S. broadcasts on PBS cut the episodes by ten minutes each, a travesty
considering the tight construction of these episodes.
Foyle's War is presented
in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, preserving its original aspect ratio of
1.85:1. Some of the shots are very close-up, giving the impression at first
that the image has been zoomed in, but as can be seen from the overall composition
of the images, this is just a stylistic choice, one that was probably made with
the smaller home television screen in mind.
The transfer is of very good
quality overall. Colors are natural-looking, with skin tones as well as other
colors appearing just right. The print is clean and free of print flaws, with
minimal noise; edge enhancement is minor. Both indoor and outdoor shots look
clean and show very little grain.
The main thing holding the
image back from a higher score is that there is not quite enough contrast,
which is apparent in both medium-lit and darker scenes. The image is also
fairly soft, though this doesn't really detract from the picture as a whole,
which is quite attractive. I'm quite pleased that Acorn Media has chosen to preserve
the widescreen aspect ratio and provide anamorphic enhancement as well.
Foyle's War has a Dolby
2.0 soundtrack which serves its purpose fairly well, if not perfectly. The
sound as a whole is clean, with no background noise; the actors' voices are
natural-sounding throughout. The musical theme for the show is a melancholy,
wistful tune that fits very well with the overall mood of the series; it is
well balanced with the other elements of the soundtrack.
The one issue I had with the
sound is that the dialogue tended to be somewhat muted with respect to the
remainder of the track. Throughout the episodes (though in some more than
others) there were words or phrases said by the actors that I didn't quite
catch, even though the overall volume level was at a normal level. On the
whole, however, the sound is quite satisfactory.
Each of the Foyle's War
episodes is packaged in a separate keepcase, with all four DVDs enclosed in an
attractive glossy paper slipcase.
Discs 1 and 4 ("The German
Woman" and "Eagle Day") each include an eleven-minute interview
with writer and series creator Anthony Horowitz, in which he offers some
interesting insights into the creation and development of the show. The
interview content is different on each disc, even though the same opening
sequence is used for both. All four discs also have text production notes (with
the same information about the series) along with cast filmographies.
I was very impressed with Foyle's
War: it's intelligent, thoughtful drama with an interesting and realistic
World War II setting. The stories have a great deal of depth to them, as Foyle's
War takes a mature and thoughtful look at human nature, and offers no easy
answers. The series has a high degree of rewatchability due to this depth, as
the episodes offer rich storytelling that rewards the viewer with more than
just the answer to the mystery puzzle. Acorn Media has given viewers an
excellent DVD package, as well, with the episodes featuring an anamorphic
widescreen transfer. Foyle's War is highly recommended.