Monday, July 7, 2008

Foyle's War

By David Luhrssen
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In 1944, an Englishman limps home with the aid of a cane. Held prisoner by the Germans since the early months of World War II, he had recently been freed by the advancing Allies. When he crosses the gate into his farmyard, his dog recognizes him but to his five-year old boy, he’s a stranger. He discovers that his wife has innocently befriended a German POW, dispatched each day from the nearby prison camp to help with the farm work. He is sullen, jealous, angry. When the German turns up dead in a nearby creek, he becomes a suspect.

And the German POW isn’t the only dead body to turn up in Series Five of “Foyle’s War,” a popular British television program nearing the end of its run. It airs on Milwaukee Public Television at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 13, July 20 and July 27. It’s also out on DVD. “Foyle’s War” is British TV at its best. The historical setting in an English coastal town is meticulously recreated. The cars and busses and the suits and shoes, the furnishings of the flats and tearooms, all appear authentic. More important than costumes and props is the human factor. The acting in “Foyle’s War,” even in minor characters, runs deep. No one is an empty shell or a cliche. The fine acting endows even the most morally compromised characters with a measure of humanity.

The focus is on Detective Chief Supervisor Christopher Foyle, effectively police chief of his little town. In episode one Foyle has to be convinced to return to his post; he resigned in a huff at the end of Season Four over what he regarded as abuses against justice in the name of the war effort. Played by Michael Kitchen, Foyle is capable, patient but gently insistent, his by the book stance lightened by a touch of wry awareness. His driver, Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks), could have been a detective in a society with more opportunities for smart women.

Foyle has his hands full with crimes that might not have been unfamiliar in many American cities during the period. In the shadow of the stirring speeches and calls to sacrifice was an illicit zone of black marketeering and war profiteering, abutting against the same human passions that result in murder whether in war or peace.

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