Acorn Media // 2010 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // July 15th, 2010
One Man fights his own battle against everyday evil -- in extraordinarily dangerous times.
No one does mystery quite as well as the British and Foyle's War is as exemplary example as one can point to.
ITV's long-running detective series continues in this, the sixth set of adventures released by Acorn Media. Due to the nature of the show's format, which is more TV movie than episodic series, this collection represents Foyle's War seventh series or season. Three installments comprise this collection of mysteries:
* "The Russian House"
Escaped Russian POWs, politics and murder put Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, (Michael Kitchen), in serious danger as he struggles to connect all the dots and discover the truth from people who would just as well see Foyle dead.
* "Killing Time"
Racism, robbery and murder make for a potent brew.
* "The Hide"
The murder of a young woman and the guilty plea of treason by the son of a well-connected political figure keep Foyle busy even as leaves his position with the Hastings Police Department.
There are two basic kinds of mysteries you will find with continuing dramas: the journey and the destination. The journey features characters the viewer likes or has become familiar with and in this type of mystery what is being investigated is often less important than how the solution is arrived at. The interactions of the characters and their relationships provide the meat of the series. The destination style of mystery features carefully plotted elements which lock into place and provide a puzzle for the viewer to either piece together or find themselves surprised with at the conclusion. Most series feature the former while occasionally rising up to the latter. It's rare then to find a series that does a pretty good job of balancing both on a consistent basis. Based on two of the three features in this set, when Foyle's War is on it does as good a job of this as anything I've seen in quite some time.
The first & third mysteries were written by series creator, Anthony Horowitz, (Midsomer Murders & Collision), and in the trilogy, these are the gems. Horowitz does a bang-up job of not only capturing small town life but also plugging into the tensions that faced a nation as soldiers returned from war changed people, unsure of their place. It's those details in the writing and the sense of unease that provides context and depth to the mystery part of the equation. One feeds the other and it makes for engaging and often surprising viewing.
While the middle film in the cycle isn't awful, it does suffer from both its placement and that the writing is more sledgehammer than scalpel. This country's treatment of African-American soldiers who fought during WWII was indeed shameful and the rules that we tried to oppose on other countries to help maintain that institutionalized form of racism is another subject deserving of a bright spotlight, but the way the material is executed in "Killing Time" is far too broad and, forgive me, far too black & white. Save for some excellent performances from the show's leads, supporting roles continue the trend and don't offer anything in the way of complexity or nuance. It's difficult subject matter and it would make for an interesting subplot but under the pen of David Kane it all comes off as trite & self-righteous.
It's worth noting that for all the detail Horowitz includes in the writing, Foyle's War production team brings it all to the screen with aplomb. Yes, the British do the whole mystery thing really well, but they also do the period thing really, really well. This series proves to be no exception.
So, top-notch writing and excellent production values, but what of the performances? I'm glad I asked because Michael Kitchen is one of those actors who commands in a role he was born to play. His Christopher Foyle is smart & sly but never obnoxious about it. Thankfully he never plays the fool but his character isn't afraid to keep things close to the vest as he takes everything in. Kitchen takes the slow boil approach so everything builds up naturally to the great reveal of who done what to whom and why. There is a grace & ease to Kitchen's acting that makes me think most everything would be better if he were in it.
Regular support continues to come from Anthony Howell as DS Paul Milner and Honeysuckle Weeks as Girl Friday, Samantha Stewart. Both are given opportunities to flesh out their characters with such things as promotions & romance, and both acquit themselves with distinction.
On the technical side of things Acorn Media's image preserves the show's
1.78:1 aspect ratio and it is presented in a clean looking, if a shade dull,
anamorphic transfer. Saturation levels are acceptable and there is a lot of
detail to be found but nothing in the visuals really demands attention. Blacks
look good but not inky and I noticed little in the way of edge enhancement.
Acceptable seems to be the key word here. Nothing to write home about but
perfectly watchable. I don't know how the series is shot but I would love to see
how Foyle's War looks in high definition. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
mix fares better as dialogue is clearly & easily heard and the soundscape
offers up a nice degree of depth.
Special features are sadly absent.
Well constructed mysteries are a joy and Foyle's War is nothing if not well constructed. Even when trying to hit its audience over the head with a message, it's still doing it with one of the great television detectives in British history and that even makes the failures worthy of discussion. Sure I would love to have seen documentary footage on the actual events which inspired these stories and yes, I would have enjoyed some audio commentaries with writers, directors and performers, but when push comes to shove, this set is entertaining all on its own. The work speaks for itself and extras would simply make a good product better. If you were a fan of Foyle's War before this, you are probably even more of one now and if, like me, this was your first time entering Foyle's world I'm sure you will probably want to go back for more. Here is hoping for an eighth series of Foyle's War.
Well written mysteries which keep the mind guessing, populated by likeable
characters operating at an interesting point of history. I had myself at well
written. Seriously though, the Brits seem to do a better job at this sort of
thing than anyone else in the world and that skill is clearly on display here.
Sure it could have looked better, but with this level of craftsmanship who am I
to complain about greens that don't pop or blacks not so deep that a person
could see their soul? The play is very much the thing and, to that end,
Foyle's War is guilty of being a good time.
Review content copyright © 2010 Harold Gervais; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated