Sunday, November 18, 2012

Foyle's War

In my Sabbath rest this afternoon I finished watching the British mystery series Foyle's War on Netflix (which is about all cableless folks can watch on Sunday afternoon when they're tired of network football).  I actually started watching the series last summer after reading about it on Farmer Lenny's blog (here), so I can't attribute all 21 episodes (each about 100 minutes long) to our lack of interesting TV shows.  Certainly though, in my estimation, it is better than most of what you can find on TV these days.  My kids have watched a lot of Psych on Netflix, and I confess to laughing at it when I catch an episode with them.  But I don't always like that I laugh at it, since in many ways it glorifies immaturity.  Foyle's War is Psych for grownups.

Christopher Foyle (played by Michael Kitchen) is a detective in Hastings, England during WWII.  Much of what I found so fascinating about the show was its portrayal of what wartime life was like in such a place.  Hastings is right on the coast between Brighton and Dover on the English Channel, and so it was a sort of front line for England against the bombing raids of the Germans.  That meant it became part of life to have blackouts at night so that the bombers couldn't see the lights.  And it meant that food was rationed to the point of most people being hungry most of the time.  And it meant that most people had family members who were killed in the war.  In the midst of all this, Foyle had to spend his time investigating crimes that seemed to some like a gigantic waste of time compared to the world situation.  Indeed Foyle himself tried to get a transfer to somewhere he might be of more significant use.  But he scrupulously carried out his duties, and this caused one of the central tensions of the show.

"Scrupulous" is one of the best one-word descriptors of Foyle.  But what is the point of scruples about persecuting the murderer of some man who had done unspeakable horrors in the war?  Didn't he get what he deserved?  Foyle would think we all deserve justice, and throwing out the laws when they are inconvenient is the surest path to widespread injustice.  There is plenty of moral complexity in the show, but that complexity is not evident solely in the character of Foyle.  He is a hero of a previous generation of stories who always does the right thing.  It gives you confidence that evil can be overcome with good.  His is not the Jack Bauer (of 24 fame) approach of the ends justifying the means.  Foyle would never stoop to torturing someone in order to get the information that will save lives, because it may not be worth living in the sort of world that creates.  Is that idealism?  You betcha!  But it is idealism that is laced with wisdom and the ability to read people.  That his methods always worked must be chalked up to the movies, but I find his way of triumphing much more satisfying than Jack Bauer's.

Michael Kitchen is a fantastic actor.  He plays Foyle as a typical understated, eloquent, and precise British gentleman (though not in the aristocratic sense).  He conveys more with subtle facial expression than anyone I've ever seen.  There is brilliant interplay with his young female driver, Sam(antha) Stewart, played by Honeysuckle Weeks.  Their dialogue isn't quite of the Jane Austen vintage, but I'm still drawn into the lovely turn of phrase and the accents that make all of them sound so much smarter than we sound.  The show's crimes can be a bit grisly sometimes, but I highly recommend it.  Give yourself a break from CSI and singing shows that all seem the same.  Give a few episodes of Foyle's War a try.  I hear they're making another season of it.  I can't wait.