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As the war winds down, the mysteries continue
on June 19, 2008
British television has certainly never been at a loss for quality entertainment. With a little care and sensitivity, the average American television viewer can assemble a superb DVD collection by concentrating on some of the splendid British programs exported to America over the years. Shows like Pride and Prejudice, Upstairs Downstairs, Brideshead Revisited and Civilization are just some of exemplary British programs that transcend the notion of mere entertainment. Occasionally, however, there are lesser-known television shows, as splendid as any of the more famous ones, that merit inclusion on that more exalted list but are excluded simply because they haven't had the proper exposure or because they are nominally considered representative of a genre, such as a mystery program. Foyle's War is illustrative of the latter reason for being excluded from the list of the finest British television.
Foyle's War is set in the English coastal town of Hastings, with its historical connotations, and covers what is generally considered by the British themselves as the second most glorious period in English history (following that glorious era of the destruction of the Spanish Armada under Elizabeth I in 1588), when England, essentially alone, withstood the Nazi onslaught of 1939-1940. Starring Michael Kitchen as Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, through whose perceptive eyes private tragedy mirrors general calamity, and human passions function as a microcosm of the universal futility and immorality of war, what is nominally a mystery series becomes so much more. Each episode is really an epiphany of human frailty, and each of the dilemmas that Foyle faces becomes one more element in the elusive explanation for human self-destructiveness. The show's writer/creator Anthony Horowitz considers no ambition unattainable. The cast is uniformly excellent, with subtlety the most significant aspect of their acting technique. This splendid ensemble is never less than superb.
When the fourth season ended, there was some question as to whether the series had ended as well. Thankfully, here we have a fifth season with three new feature length episodes. The show is as brilliant as ever, for as the war begins to wind down, the secret dimensions of the troubled human psyche remain unchanged. It remains Foyle's task to shed light on the elusive human soul, regardless of how often he must remain aloof from the 'glamorous' history occuring all around him. His frustration is one of the ironies of these programs. Although Foyle regards his achievements as of little consequence to the war effort, they actually have a universal impact. In fact, they transcend the merely temporal and we, the audience, know that well. What Foyle achieves over the course of this superb series is an explanation for human frailty, a look at those hidden recesses that represent human weakness. He illuminates our private turmoil and secret fears from which spring all public crises. Foyle's War attempts to discover the roots of war. That it largely succeeds will be its ultimate testament. If you have never seen this show, you may be surprised by its scope, which is so much greater than merely a mystery program. Superlatives all around. Most strongly recommended.