Foyle's War: Fifty Ships / Among The Few Review
It's genuinely hard to believe that Foyle's War is on ITV. Granted, ITV is the channel of Inspector Morse, Rebus and The Vice. It's the home of Harry Hill. John Pilger, who has produced a string of stunning documentaries, continues to call it home. It's the channel that gave us The Prisoner. But it's also the home of You've Been Framed, of This Morning and Chris Tarrant, a man who doesn't actually need an audience given that no member of the public could be as amused by Tarrant as Tarrant is himself. Give that man a mirror and let him smirk at his own reflection every minute of every day. It is also the home of Simon Cowell and were it not for being entirely unaware of where to strike - Yorkshire TV, Carlton, Granada? - every right-thinking person would already have risen up against ITV in protest at the lines of talentless numpties (Walsh, Minogue, Cowell and Osbourne included) on their television every Saturday night. Damn ITV's decentralised management structure!
But ITV it is, leaving a show of this quality sticking out like an oak tree in a box of matchsticks. Ths is such a terrific show that ITV would nail my eyelids open and force me to watch a week's worth of Barry Scott and Cillit Bang - sorry, CILLIT BANG!!!! - advertisements to fund the production of Foyle's War. Absolutely perfect Sunday night television, Foyle's War stars Michael Kitchen as Hastings Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, a quietly determined police officer (and son of a policeman) who, too old for military service in WWII but a veteran of the First World War, serves the country's efforts in his own way, solving the crimes committed by those taking advantage of the chaos of life during wartime, including treason, the black market and murder. Aided by his driver Samantha Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) and Detective Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell), Foyle works in a very difficult time. There is chaos at home caused by blackouts, nightly bombings by the Nazis and, from Hastings' location on the south coast, the arrival of those escaping mainland Europe. With the Americans not yet in the war, Britain is acting very much alone and Foyle is often seen as unwelcome by an army who would much rather get on with the job of fighting and winning a war than deal with Foyle's questions. But, as Foyle rightly reasons, is there a point to winning a war abroad if the peace cannot be guaranteed at home?
The two episodes on this two-disc set date from 2003 and the second series of Foyle's War and begin with Fifty Ships (98m45s). The characters were well-established, leaving the sight of Samantha Stewart cycling home a familiar one. That night, the air raid sirens sound and Sam takes to bed during the blackout, only to be woken as a bomb lands on the house in which she is a boarder. However, worse is to come when another victim of the bombing explains to Foyle how some valuable coins seem to have gone missing during the clearing up. As Foyle begins investigating, he learns that an American visitor crucial to securing war aid has some history in the area and in Oxford and as a Germay spy row into British waters, Foyle must learn to trust him to solve the crimes. Then the father of one of the suspected looters turns up dead on the beach with a gunshot wound to the head and Foyle discovers that these disparate victims and crimes may have a common history.
Among The Few (98m04s) is set is September 1940 and Foyle's son Andrew (Julian Ovenden), a pilot in the RAF, is flying out of England for sorties over Germany. Meanwhile, Christopher Foyle and Samantha are involved in a near-miss on the roads around Hastings, which involves them in the theft of fuel from a depot. As Sam goes undercover, she discovers that the obvious suspect is another young woman working in the depot, Connie. But before Foyle can bring Connie in for questioning, she is found dead. As Foyle takes a keener interest in the case, he learns that Connie was a victim long before her killing but what shocks him is that his son Andrew appears to be involved.
There are highlights in every episode, not least the tone of historical accuracy that sees period clothes, motor vehicles and fighter planes all jostle for space on the screen. Most welcome in this is Foyle himself, a police officer of a kind that was excused from television dramas shortly before the arrival of The Sweeney, Foyle is decent, loyal, hardworking and more fond of understatement than hearing any praise sung in his honour or that of his team. Notable in this is the sense of disappointment that Foyle suffers from. In the first two series, Foyle made efforts to leave the police force and play a more active role in the armed forces but repeated rejections led to his remaining with the police, resigned to his fate through the war. This is also keenly felt with the look of suppressed outrage that Foyle wears throughout the series, one that sets his own high moral standard against the petty theft and personal grudges by people who are a blight on Hastings, people who, Foyle feels, should be doing very much more to support that actions of the troops overseas.
Better comes with the more personal dramas in the series. During the first four episodes, Foyle, not exactly warm but not unpleasant either, revealed very little of himself. That would change with this second series. In Among The Few, he suspects his son of involvement in fuel trafficking. He is widowed, greatly misses his wife and sees his only son flying over Germany, chancing death with every flight. In Fifty Ships, he has a very tender moment with an old flame of his, Elizabeth, the first woman that he ever loved. In spite of her asking him to remember the old days, Foyle, in tears, recalls how her father made it clear that the son of a policeman was perfectly unsuitable for his daughter. Foyle never forgot that moment but neither did he let it shape the rest of his life, which was, he tells Elizabeth, everything that he had hoped for. It is a remarkable moment in a series that, in its own quiet way, has gone about making Sunday night television memorable.
Foyle's War is that show that I can't say I ever suspected ITV making. There are no concessions made towards comedy, often the complete passing by of a happy ending and no sign of the victory parties of 1945. Instead, Foyle's War is curiously bleak about the guarding of the home front but, in the same breath, proud of those who served Britain when it was very much alone in its fight against the Nazis. Foyle's War is an excellent show that, as regards Sunday night television, raised the bar so completely that no other show has shown any convincing sign of catching up with it.
The highlight of watching Foyle's War, apart from the quality of the writing and acting, is the soundtrack, rich with the purr of old motor cars, the noise of passing fighter planes and the silence of the empty streets around Hastings. Although it is clearly disguising the modern day hubbub around Hastings, it generally does a very fine job of its period setting, which is fairly well reproduced on this two-disc set. There is a small amount of background noise and though it's never intrusive, listen very carefully and it is there. There is not, however, any real improvement from the television broadcast although that should be fine for most viewers.
What's less impressive is the quality of the picture, which, though it looks alright on a small television set, appears soft and lacking in detail when shown on a big television screen. This actually seems like a small step back from its showing on television and though the bitrate or medium cannot be blamed, the fault does seem to lie with how the picture was made ready for DVD. This is a shame as everything else appears to have gone very well, not least that the source material is in very good condition, Foyle's War normally looks very good and Acorn avoided squeezing both episodes onto the same disc.
The main extra is a short Interview (6m29s) that sees Anthony Howell and Honeysuckle Weeks sitting together on a sofa and describing their separate background in film and television and what attracted them to the roles in this show. There are also Filmographies for the four main members of the cast, Production Notes and a set of nine publicity stills in a Picture Gallery
Unlike a good many other reviews that I fail to write in time for the release date, I'm not deliberately late for this Foyle's War set. We did ask Acorn for the complete sixteen-disc-RRP-of-£100 set that was released in September but they sent me this instead. I can't blame them. In fact, I'd have palmed me off with something like this as well but, just so you know, we did try to get the complete set for review. However, I have served my purpose in reviewing this and to let you know that the sixteen-disc set is out there and, one suspects (though I haven't done the comparison), cheaper than picking up these two-episode releases.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 01:10:26