Another "complete" box set...that's already obsolete. Acorn Media has re-packaged their old Foyle's War sets for Foyle's War - The Home Front Files: Sets 1 - 6, a six-volume, 22-disc, 22-episode collection of (most of) the internationally acclaimed U.K. WWII mystery series created and co-written by Anthony Horowitz. Now, collectors and fans of the show who don't already own those previous releases might be tempted to pick up Foyle's War sets for Foyle's War - The Home Front Files: Sets 1 - 6 because it does bring them right up to date with the series...if today was April 25th, 2010 (the air date of the last episode included here). However, three brand new episodes of Foyle's War are being broadcast right now in the U.K., so if you're a complete O.C.D. freak like myself, you'll just look at this big box set and moan, "Unclean, unclean." However, if you're well-adjusted mentally, you can't go wrong here. All bonuses are the same, for potential double-dippers.
I've written before about Foyle's War, as have several other DVDTalk contributors (our editor, John Sinnott, covered the last Acorn collection that covered sets 1 through 5―I'll bet those buyers are real happy now...), so I don't think there's a big need to write a doctoral dissertation on the program. As I wrote before, Foyle's War continues to fascinate me with its determined emphasis on telling stories about England's home front during WWII, stories that examine complex moral and ethical choices associated with living under the strain of a world at war, and which receive at least as much attention as the standard mystery sub-plots that anchor and identify the films as accomplished examples of the "English country murder" genre.
Set in Hastings, East Sussex, in and around the beaches of South East England, spanning the start, duration and aftermath of WWII, Foyle's War tells the story of Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), a Detective Chief Superintendent employed by His Majesty's government to keep the peace on the home front during WWII―a job he at first doesn't want, owing to his desire to seek active duty in the military. Aiding Foyle is Detective Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell). A policeman before the war, he subsequently enlisted, losing his leg in battle, only to return to policework at the urging of Foyle. Samantha Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) is a member of the Mechanized Transport Corps (during most of the series), and the driver for Foyle. She's also quite good at helping Foyle and Milner in their investigations, acting more like a colleague rather than just a driver. Making Foyle's job more difficult (or at least more varied) are the new pressures―as well as new crimes―that come with the nation going on full military effort. Foyle's investigations now frequently involve the black market, official corruption, illegal gambling, murders motivated by race and citizenship, the production of illegal, deadly "hooch" (moonshine), embezzlement of government monies, germ warfare, culture clashes (with the stationed American troops), and military sabotage, as well as the standard civilian misdemeanors, felones, and murders that still crop up.
Perhaps the most quiet, still, laconic detective you'll ever see on television, Foyle's M.O. never varies: quite observation, desert dry wit, zero reaction to even the most extreme provocation, and carefully chosen, clipped, spare sentences that sum up much, much more than one first assumes. Nothing seems to ruffle Foyle, although it's clear he feels deeply about his colleagues and about his duty. That dedication to duty, and even more, his dedication, love, and utmost respect for the law, keeps Foyle constantly at odds with others who see the war as yet another excuse to flout the conventions of the legal systems―as well as a convenient bypass for committing morally questionable actions. That thread―the circumstances of war on the civilian, and the use of those pressures as excuses for illegal activity―is what I continue to find most fascinating about Foyle's War. The mysteries merely serve as backdrops for telling stories about the war, and how civilians coped with new pressures and circumstances with the coming of this momentous, seismic change in their society. And they're not facile issues with pat, easy answers, either; they can raise uncomfortable feelings in the viewer (for all those naive Anglophiles like myself who continually reboot and delude themselves into thinking that the British all come from Ealing Studio's central casting, and that they love Americans, well....). If at times the mystery angles don't quite measure up to the complexities of the homefront subplots, in the end that's just a minor quibble, because the episodes as a whole are so well produced and directed that any convenient coincidences or obvious red herrings are quickly forgotten in the episodes overall impact.
As routinely well written and produced as the episodes are, it can't be stressed enough that key to the success of Foyle's War is the performance of Michael Kitchen. A veteran British character actor, Kitchen's tranquil, still performance is wonderfully spare. Reduced to the barest bones, Kitchen's technique here puts the viewer on the alert any time he shows up on screen, making the viewer watch carefully for even the smallest gesture or expression that conveys so much more than the few words he's given to speak. It's one of the most adept examples of underplaying I've ever seen. And wisely, the other actors take a cue from Kitchen, keeping their characterizations suitably low-key to avoid bouncing off the screen by comparison. Kitchen's subtle, imperturbable, self-possessed performance perfectly matches the steady, contemplative tone of the Foyle's War.
...which brings us to Foyle's War - The Home Front Files: Sets 1 - 6. Considering how worthwhile the series itself is, I'm loathe to not recommend this boxed set, particularly for anyone new to the show, regardless of the fact that it's covering already-trodden ground. And yes, conceivably, those three brand-new episodes now airing in Britain could come out separately on disc, to complement this boxed set. Potential double-dippers, though, should be aware that everything is the same here from previous Acorn releases, right down to the artwork, hardcases (no one at Acorn wanted to save space here and go the slimcase route?), the discs, transfers, and the bonuses.
Here are the 22 episodes in the 22-disc collection, Foyle's War - The Home Front Files: Sets 1 - 6, as listed on their hardcases:
The German Woman
When a beautiful Austrian woman is found murdered with a swastika painted on a nearby tree, Foyle realizes the seemingly peaceful Sussex town harbors any number of suspects.
The White Feather
The arrest of a young girl on a sabotage charge brings Foyle into contact with a group of English Nazi sympathizers.
A Lesson in Murder
A conscientious objector dies in police custody, setting in motion a series of suspicious deaths and a complicated puzzle for Foyle.
In the course of investigating a murder, Foyle uncovers a plot to steal art treasures being moved from a local museum to Wales for safekeeping.
Foyle's determined investigation of a body found on a deserted beach puts at risk crucial war aid from America.
Among the Few
In a story of greed and passion, Foyle finds appearances are deceptive.
Divided loyalties lead to revenge and murder when a businessman puts profits before principles in a secret pact with the Nazis.
The Funk Hole
Foyle finds himself accused of a serious offense, which complicates his hunt for a murderer.
The French Drop
Investigating a suspicious death, Foyle gets caught up in the rivalry between the established spy agency MI5 and the newly created SOE.
Sabotage, murder, and adultery at a pioneering RAF hospital brings Foyle face to face with the physical and emotional consequences of war.
They Fought in the Fields
A murdered farmer and the crash landing of a German plane present a confusing case.
A War of Nerves
An unexpected bomb at a busy shipyard leads to a startling discovery in a story of greed and politics.
As the first American GIs arrive to build an airbase near Hastings, the murder of a barmaid further strains relationships between the locals and the Yanks.
A top-secret experiment in biological warfare goes horribly wrong, complicating a murder investigation and threatening the life of Foyle's faithful driver, Sam.
The death of a young munitions worker and the murder of Paul Milner's wife seem linked, and Foyle strives to clear his sergeant from suspicion.
Casualties of War
While investigating gambling and sabotage, Foyle takes in his troubled goddaughter and her severely traumatized son, who refuses to speak.
Plan of Attack
With the Hastings police force suffering attrition and low morale, Foyle comes out of retirement to probe the mysterious death of a cartographer from the Air Ministry office.
The murder of an ambitious young doctor at the local psychiatric clinic produces no shortage of suspects among the staff and patients, many of whom still experience the war's horrors.
With final victory expected any day, Hastings looks ahead to a radically different post-war life. But the end comes too soon for two men--one a murder victim, the other an apparent suicide.
The Russian House
The escape of a Russian POW sets off a chain of events that leads to murder and rekindles a conflict between Foyle and his former subordinate.
With African American Gis waiting to return Stateside, racial tension, jealousy, and greed combine to create a potentially explosive situation in Hastings.
As DI Milner investigates the murder of a young woman in Brighton, Foyle probes the motives of an accused traitor who refuses to defend himself.
Near-perfect. The anamorphically-enhanced, 1.78:1 widescreen transfers for Foyle's War - The Home Front Files: Sets 1 - 6 are razor-sharp, with subtle color values and contrast, and no compression issues. Nice.
The Dolby Digital English stereo audio tracks are surprisingly nimble, with discreet separation effects, a substantial re-recording level, and no hiss. Closed-captions are available on sets 1 - 5, while SDH subtitles are available on set 6.
All the same, from previous releases. Interviews with creator/writer Anthony Horowitz, stars Anthony Howell, Honeysuckle Weeks, "making-of" documentaries, and various text extras, including cast filmographies, historical backgrounds of the episodes, photo galleries, and production notes, round out the bonuses here.
Foyle's War - The Home Front Files: Sets 1 - 6 is certainly going to frustrate buyers of the previous releases of the popular U.K. WWII mystery (that lower price doesn't help), while ticking-off completists who just found out they're making and airing new episodes as we speak. Still...it's hard to argue with the content: a superior British mystery series with a fascinating context. For newcomers only who don't own previous sets or who are betting on those new episodes being available separately, I'm highly recommending Foyle's War - The Home Front Files: Sets 1 - 6
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.