Foyle's War - Series 2 - United States

Wall Street Journal
; DCS Foyle Returns; July 16, 2004; Dorothy Rabinowitz

Wall Street Journal; DCS Foyle Returns; July 16, 2004; Dorothy Rabinowitz

When the first season of "Foyle's War" aired last year, the series won rave reviews. It was clear then that its creators, television writer Anthony Horowitz and company, were on to something in this passionate, occasionally awkward mix of suspense and social commentary, set in an England at war -- and imperiled. There was every reason to want more of Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle (Michael Kitchen), and of his 1940s England, and more is what we're about to get with four new episodes beginning Sunday on "Mystery!" (9-10:30 p.m. EDT on PBS; check local listings).

The new season of "Foyle's War" is more sure-footed than the first and deeper, its emotional temperature higher. Prevented from serving in the military, the DCS has finally come to see that the home front is also a battleground in England's war.

Here is Foyle, then, picking his way through a grimy netherworld of war profiteers, thieves, traitors foreign and domestic -- a population whose crimes seem all the darker for their contrast with the jauntily heroic young RAF pilots being killed off daily, in terrible numbers, or with the stalwartness of British civilians enduring the bombing and the food shortages. Those crimes would not seem quite so dark, of course, without DCS Foyle there to sum up the moral issues, as he does in confrontation scenes of quietly ferocious force.

It's hard, indeed, to remember a "Mystery!" series written with anything like the soaring rhetorical thrust to be found in this one. The first taste of that force announces itself unmistakenly toward the end of episode one, when a character, newly aware that he has been living with a traitor, and enraged by the fact, delivers a remarkable speech. That speech lasts only seconds, but it's an exemplar of the writerly skill and tone of this series.

Between the high moments there's plenty of intricate plotting and suspense, abetted by an army of suspicious characters. Still, however fancifully the plot lines turn along endless twisting paths strewn with red herrings and mini-love stories -- there's a gay theme lurking in at least one segment, along with more standard whodunit complications -- the war is always there, the main character right along with Foyle. There is hardly a picture of the sky here that's not filled with planes and their young pilots streaking off to fight.


In the midst of all the action DCS Foyle walks about, small and gray-looking in his not-quite-shabby suits -- a stark contrast to the glorious-looking pilots aglow with youth, splendid in their uniforms. But neither the pouchiness of his aging face nor his thinning hair can keep Mr. Kitchen's Foyle from commanding the screen as he makes his way through scenarios that border, occasionally, on the absurd without quite getting there.

That's because it's hard not to get swept up by the audacity -- or maybe the word is perversity -- of a plot line like that of episode one, involving an ominous-looking rich American, offensive and brash in manner, as the characters of rich Americans are wont to be in the hands of British and other European writers. This American has, as it happens, come to help muster support for the embattled British in his role as head of an organization called The American Allies of England.

Mr. Horowitz has obviously drawn here on the existence of a real organization of interventionists determined to save England and provide her with desperately needed war supplies: a group whose clumsily complicated name -- the Committee to Aid America by Defending the Allies -- says a lot about the cautious argumentation the group's leaders deemed necessary if they were to persuade an America still at peace that England must be helped. (In fact, polls in early 1941 showed most Americans favoring aid to England by a margin of two to one.) Credit the creators of "Foyle's War" for coming up, at least, with the better name -- The American Allies of England gets right to the point -- and for a series that is, no small thanks to Mr. Kitchen, a triumph from start to finish.

Many thanks to Tess for sending over the review.