While there are many reasons to tune in to PBS’s long-running series Foyle’s War (from its well-crafted mysteries to its detailed recreations of home-front England during and after WWII), the best reason, as any fan knows, is to watch Michael Kitchen’s masterful portrayal of Detective Christopher Foyle. Foyle is a rarity in today’s detective-saturated TV landscape, a crime-solver without quirks or a damaged past. He has no demons, no drinking problem, no distracting love life, no comedic partner. Kitchen plays him with an almost unnerving amount of stillness, taking classic underacting to a new level. He’s like an embodiment of the wartime slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On.” And in his quiet way, he’s as watchable as any scenery-chewer; his lips slightly pursing while a suspect lies to him is just as thrilling (or more so) than Kiefer Sutherland pistol-whipping a suspect on 24.
Created by writer Anthony Horowitz, Foyle’s War, which debuted on ITV in 2002, follows the casework of Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle, his driver Samantha “Sam” Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks), and Detective Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell). At the beginning of the series, Foyle has reluctantly agreed to a post in the seaside town of Hastings, England, despite his preference for helping out directly with the war effort. Luckily for him, Hastings turns out to be a hotbed of black-market profiteers, Nazi sympathizers, and complex murders. Each episode spotlights some aspect of the war in England, like conscientious objectors or land girls. If all this sounds like a history lesson disguised as a mystery thriller, that’s not far off, but the 90-minute episodes are so well crafted that the mini history lessons rarely seem forced.
A purported finale to Foyle’s War aired in 2008 with Germany surrendering and Foyle planning his retirement. But high ratings in the U.K. have brought three new episodes that take place after the conclusion of the war. Continuing a series after it has seemingly ended is usually a terrible idea, but Horowitz and his creative team have put together three more-than-decent storylines. The weakest element is the contrived way in which the writers attempt to reunite the three principal characters of the show. Foyle is retiring and no longer needs a driver, which leaves Sam with her own subplot, a weak romance with a rootless returning soldier, while Milner is now a Detective Chief Superintendent in Brighton. Not surprisingly, each of the three cases manages to throw the characters together through unrealistic contrivances. But the cases themselves are interesting, none more so than the final episode of the season, “The Hide,” which deals with members of the British Free Corps, allied POWs who were recruited to fight with the Nazis. It’s a stirring, complex episode with a standout performance by Andrew Scott, an Irish actor playing a prisoner determined to allow himself to hang for a crime he may not have committed.
There is also an emotional component to the finale, one that reveals something from Foyle’s own distant past. It’s an unusual moment, out of character for the show, but one that feels completely earned. Faithful viewers will relish seeing a flicker of feeling pass Foyle’s face. It’s like watching wind ruffle an otherwise calm lake, and it’s a fitting end (barring an unlikely return—Foyle in America?) to one of the best detective series of the past 10 years.