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TV Review: 'Foyle's War' fights mystery in World War II Britain

Friday, January 31, 2003

By Betsy Kline, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It's hard to argue which the Brits do better: whodunit mysteries or World War II dramas? "ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre" delivers the best of both genres in the four-part wartime detective series "Foyle's War," starting Sunday on PBS. The setting is a sleepy coastal village on the English Channel in the early days of the war, the spring and summer of 1940.

TV PREVIEW: 'Foyle's War'

WHEN: Sundays, Feb. 2 through Feb. 23, 9 to 10:30 p.m. on WQED.

STARRING: Michael Kitchen, Anthony Howell and Honeysuckle Weeks.


Britain is bracing for possible invasion by Hitler's armies. Anyone could be a spy, and German nationals are being interned. Suspicion and tension are as thick as clotted cream at high tea.

Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) wants to fight the war in Europe, but his superiors insist he stay and fight crime on the home front. To soften his rejection, Assistant Commissioner Summers (Edward Fox) promises Foyle a personal driver and an assistant.

His driver "Sam" turns out to be the very young and perky Samantha Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks), who can barely contain her enthusiasm for sleuthing. Foyle has a harder time enlisting Detective Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell of "Wives and Daughters"), a returned war hero dejected by the loss of a leg during British action in Norway.

The unflappable Foyle, acted superbly by Kitchen (Francesca Annis' slimy doctor husband in "Reckless"), tackles his first case, "A German Woman," with little enthusiasm. But during the course of an investigation into military deferments for sale, a young local woman is killed when the Germans bomb the village. Then the body of the German wife of a wealthy local landowner is found half-decapitated, a swastika carved into a nearby tree. Foyle must determine if it is anti-German revenge or a cleverly concealed case of familial greed.

Episode two, "The White Feather," finds Foyle, Milner and Sam investigating the murder of a Nazi sympathizer during a closed-room meeting of English fascists led by their charismatic leader, Guy Spencer (Charles Dance of "Gosford Park"). In an Agatha Christie-like maneuver, Foyle tries to keep the suspects rounded up until he can finger the killer. The surprise ending gives itself away early, but it doesn't disrupt the serious undertone of Foyle's mission.

The subject of conscientious objectors, the evacuation of children from London and the brave civilian rescue at Dunkirk figure in case three, "A Lesson in Murder." In the course of investigating the suicide of a conscientious objector in police custody, the trio is shaken by the murder of a young evacuee by a booby-trapped grenade in the summerhouse of his wealthy host family. Was the grenade meant for Judge Gascoigne, who sat on the tribunal of the dead war resister? How peaceful are the pacifists? Actor Kitchen brings quiet intelligence and internal conflict to the role of Foyle, who must enforce the law even when his heart objects.

Foyle's emotional side flickers through in the final episode, "Eagle Day." His only child, Andrew (Julian Ovenden of "The Forsyte Saga"), is an RAF pilot assigned to a top-secret radar project on the coast. When Andrew is charged with treason, Foyle must find out who framed him and why. And is it connected to a stabbed body in a bombed-out house and a shipment of priceless works of art hidden in an abandoned Welsh mine?

"Foyle's War," written and created by Anthony Horowitz, puts a personal face on the war that is hard to forget: Foyle's struggle to balance desire and duty; Sam's maturation as a squeamish but capable gumshoe; and Milner's struggle to rekindle the affection of his wife, who cannot cope with his disability.

The series ends too soon. The war has just begun and we've yet to learn why Foyle doesn't drive. Stay tuned. PBS informs us more episodes are "in the works"!

Betsy Kline can be reached at bkline@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1408.

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