Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday Favorites - Foyle's War

Sometimes you just fall in love with a character.  And was the way it was with me and Detective Chief Superintendant Foyle of Foyle's War.

And I was heartily disappointed to find out that this was an original series, and not adapted from a long and tasty series of books.  The series feels like a really good English police procedural novel -- steeped in detail and rich in character and plot.

But it was original to television, so what you see is exactly what you get.  (And so far there are 22 episodes, with 3 more in production.)

The series takes place in Hastings, on the southern coast of England during WWII.  The story begins as war has already broken out, and D.C.S. Foyle is trying to resign his job and join the war effort -- something he tries to do throughout the series, with varying results.

The war office says it keeps turning him down because his position as chief of the investigative division of such an important district is just too darned important.  But don't be fooled, after a few episodes it becomes clear that they're turning him down for war work because, in spite of his very correct, soft-spoken, dissembling, polite demeanor, Foyle is Trouble.  With a capital T.  At least as far as bureaucrats are concerned.

Foyle is a bulldog, who doesn't give up on things.  And though he demands correct behavior and respect from those below him... he doesn't have a lot of respect for authority himself.  He certainly doesn't respect things like, oh, national security.  Not when they get in the way of justice.

Also, he can't drive a car.  So the war office assigns a young woman from the Mechanized Transport Corps to be his driver.  Sam, the driver, is young! Enthusaistic! A chatter-box! and a fun foil for Foyle, who is understated, self-controled, soft-spoken, and dignified.  These two are soon joined by Foyle's former sergeant, Milner, who had gone off to war, but lost a leg and is now back home.

As with any good police procedural, there are usually multiple cases in each episode, although they generally tie up on some way -- sometimes there is a secret connection, but sometimes it's just that in a small town, cases overlap by simple proximity.  The interweaving of multiple threads is deftly done, and the war itself creates rich complications for both the mystery case, and the personal lives of the characters. 

One of the things that makes this series sing for me is kinda the opposite of Casablanca: the lesson here is that even in the crazy world-gone-mad of war, the ordinary problems of the little people DO matter.

I keep thinking of a picture I'd seen in a book about the Blitz when I was a kid: a shop in London, showing obvious bomb damage, but there were boxes of goods, and a sign in the window which said: "More open than usual this morning."

This series is about people carrying on in difficult times, and about maintaining civilization when there is a very good reason not to.  Foyle keeps his head and his compassion, when everyone else is ready to let things slide. He'll hound a murderer even if he's important to the war effort, and he'll clear a suspect even if she's a Nazi sympathizer.

On some forum discussion somewhere, I heard someone say that Foyle was maybe a little _too__ good.  I don't know.  I think that's something important in a really good series detective.  There needs to be something a little more dramatic, maybe a little theatrical, or maybe even... superheroic about him or her.  For instance, the way Columbo can zero in just exactly the right way on the killer's weaknesses -- it's delightful and almost magical.  He can pull off a miracle.

Foyle is certainly less theatrical than many classic mystery detectives, but he's got that miracle thing going for him.  He's a character you trust to come through for you, and for the characters.  The drama of that comes partly because he has an air of mystery: he is so reserved.  His sidekicks all admire him, and yet they're also a little afraid of him -- of what he'll think when they screw up.  And yet he always pulls their bacon out of the fire.  You can always count on him to do the right thing, sometimes even when it has nothing to do with him.

Of course, in a realistic drama -- especially a murder mystery -- Foyle can't actually make everything better; he isn't a superhero.  But he does always do the right and best thing.  And he often works in mysterious ways.

There are seven seasons out there on DVD (Although I think the last two seasons are collected into one in America).  The first couple seasons are available free for Prime members on Amazon's Instand Video. I tend to rent them from my excellent local video store, and they may be available at your local library as well.

I understand there is an eighth season in production, with three more episodes on the way.  (Yippee!)

See you in the funny papers.

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