The TV Series:
Nothing, but nothing, got past British detective Christopher Foyle in his sleuthing during and after World War II. Acorn Media's 3-disc Foyle's War: Set 7 presents three more installments with Michael Kitchen continuing his "I may look mild-mannered, but I can see right through your deception, bee-yotch" thing as Foyle.
Since the most recent Foyle's War episode seen in our household was the Series 4 episode Bad Blood from way back in 2006, the darker tone set forth on Set 7 came as something of a shock. Picking up in New Mexico (atomic testing!) and London in the summer of 1946, we find the dour-faced yet intrepid Foyle being reluctantly recruited into MI5, the covert British military organization dedicated to counter-intelligence. His first assignment: uncovering a suspected Communist spy. The austerity of postwar British life is accurately captured here, but the seaside country town setting from the earlier seasons has vanished, along with the lightness of spirit. Foyle's plucky driver, Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks), is now a grim politician's wife trying to scrape by in the city. The fact that Foyle and Sam are now living separate lives goes along with the sobering new reality the show presents, although it is a bit comforting that she ends up returning to Foyle's driver seat by the end of this installment. Gone are Foyle's assistant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) and his pilot son, Andrew (Julian Ovenden). The tight cast of characters put the stories' WWII-specific atrocities on a human scale, a feel that has gone slightly askew. It's a new era, all right.
Despite a three-year gap between the airings of these episodes and the previous Series Seven installments, this new iteration of Foyle's War still boasts the intelligent plotting and historic expertise of creator Anthony Horowitz. Atypical as it may be (more like an espionage drama than a whodunit), opening episode The Eternity Ring does an excellent job setting the mood for what one character refers to as "a new war, and a new enemy" - Communism. This time, Foyle is recruited to help identify members of an underground ring of Soviet sympathizers attempting to obtain classified British atomic bomb secrets, a case which puts Sam on the list of suspects. Actor Tim McMullan is introduced as Foyle's enigmatic fellow MI5 agent Arthur Valentine, while Ellie Haddington reprises her role as spy agency Grande Dame Hilda Pierce.
With second episode The Cage, the Cold War intrigue continues even as this particular outing goes into classic Foyle's War mode as a compelling, self-contained mystery. Although it's the only episode not scripted by Horowitz, writer David Kane penned a tight story that exposes an unsavory side of British Intelligence, based on real-life situations. Haddington hires Foyle to look into the deaths of three Russian defectives who were in supposedly safe hands, while Sam is installed as a secretary in Arthur Valentine's Intelligence office. Meanwhile, Sam's husband Adam Wainwright (Daniel Weyman) mounts a difficult campaign as a labour party candidate. While canvassing the homes in his district, he comes across a woman with a missing daughter - and a crucial link with Foyle's investigation.
For awhile there, Foyle seems to be as dispirited as we viewers are at the grim task of Red-hunting from the confines of a office. Thankfully, Horowitz veers away from the topic for the concluding episode, Sunflower. This installment has Foyle getting assigned to protect Karl Strasser (Lars Eidinger), a former Nazi and art history professor whom the MI5 employs for information. American military officers are seeking out Strasser for his participation in Operation Sunflower, a wartime massacre in the French countryside. We also get acquainted with a shell-shocked veteran by the name of Tommy Nelson (Charles Aitken), a man obsessed with shadowing Strasser. Although this episode was more deliberately paced (and not as absorbing) as the others, it comes together in the end with some uncharacteristically violent passages. Good performances from Aitken and Weeks (who figures in this episode's subplot).
For all its craftsmanship and historic accuracy, there's something lacking in this season which hopefully can be resolved soon. It might be the move to London, and the feeling that Foyle and Sam are drifting into their own separate lives. The earlier seasons' village setting, and the varied ways the locals adjusted to the horrors of war happening just off their shores, had a uniqueness that these newer installments can't quite capture. While one can't blame Horowitz, crew, and cast for wanting to move on, the increased seriousness in tone that Foyle's War takes on in Series Eight makes one wonder if viewers will follow, too.
Foyle's War: Set 7's three discs contain the following episodes (all episodes run 86-89 minutes):
Disc One - The Eternity Ring (Series Eight, Episode 1, originallly aired 24 March 2013)
Returning from America, Foyle gets drawn into an MI5 investigation of a Russian spy ring in which Sam, his former driver, has been implicated.
Disc Two - The Cage (Series Eight, Episode 2, originallly aired 31 March 2013)
Foyle's inquiry into the death of several Russian defectors leads him to a mysterious military facility.
Disc Three - Sunflower (Series Eight, Episode 3, originallly aired 7 April 2013)
Foyle is charged with looking into assassination attempts against an ex-Nazi defector under MI5's protection.
Visually, Foyle's War: Set 7 arrives on disc in excellent shape. Light and dark levels are perfectly pitched, color is lifelike and full of depth, and the mastering (one episode to a disc) brings out the detail in the photography.
The good stereo soundtrack used on these episodes is understated, yet lacking in outstanding flaws. It's an atmospheric mix with clear dialogue and well-balanced sound effects.
Series creator Anthony Horowitz supplies background info in 5-minute introductions for each episode. These sequences are somewhat spoiler-revealing; those averse to that sort of thing should watch afterwards. Disc 3 contains a couple hours' worth of behind-the-scenes featurettes: Origins, On the Set, and More (26:56); Old Friends and New Faces (14:15); The Styling of Foyle's War (26:55); The Sunflower Massacre: Historical Facts, Visual Fictions (17:44). Although these sequences could use much tighter editing, they all contain some fascinating historic tidbits and background into (like the fact that it was mostly filmed in Ireland). A brief series recap and photo gallery round out the extras.
With the three-DVD Set 7, the mood of the excellent Brit period mystery Foyle's War takes on an ominous, increasingly solemn turn as the enemy of choice moves on from Nazis to Commies. The espionage-filled plots delve into familiarity, yet Anthony Horowitz's commitment to tasty mystery and compelling, accurate history makes the set another worthwhile trip back to the 1940s. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.