It's so wonderful to have Foyle's War back after three years on Masterpiece Mystery, which runs Sunday nights on PBS. Foryle's War is probably my second favorite of the Masterpiece Mystery series, placing only behind the "Miss Marple" series with the great Joan Hickson. It was created -- and every episode magnificently written by -- Anthony Horowitz. What I love about the show is that I've never really considered it a mystery, but rather an intricate, character-driven drama in which a murder has taken place. More in the vein of Hamlet, which isn't a mystery just because his uncle was murdered.
Michael Kitchen is back of Detective Chief Inspector Foyle, now retired. It's one of the most taciturn performance you'll see in a starring role, a man who says more with the click of his cheek than most actors do with a page of dialogue. In fact, in an interview I saw with Anthony Horowitz, he said that Michael Kitchen was the only actor he's ever dealt with who asked for less dialogue. (You might recognize Kitchen, a member of the National Theatre, from the original British series of the House of Cards trilogy, appearing in the second part, To Play the King, as the King of England. He also was in the recent film, My Week with Marilyn, as Laurence Olivier's production executive.
Also back is the wonderful and offbeat Honeysuckle Weeks as his former driver, Samantha. Not returning is Anthony Howell as Sgt. Milner. That's because the show has progressed in time and moved a few years ahead from the seaside village of Hastings to London in the early 1950s. Where once Foyle felt frustrated by not being allowed into the national service during World War II and having to remain a local police detective, now he's recruited by MI5 for a new war, the Cold War, specifically because they could use someone with police skills. Foyle is reluctant, distrustful of their methods -- but he warily agrees to come out of retirement.
There's a wonderful line of dialogue at the end of the first episode when an officer in M15, Hilda Pearce (played by Ellie Haddington), makes her play to bring Foyle aboard. She was a very minor character from the earlier series of the show -- appearing in only three of the previous 22 episodes -- but whose role has been expanded now that the British Secret Service has become central. She's a fascinating, wildly manipulative, secretive, deceptive older woman who says to Foyle, "I need someone here I can trust." He looks at her pointedly, and in as understated a way as possible (as always for Kitchen), says, "The feeling is mutual."
The first episode back was a bit more mystery-driven than earlier Foyle's, but that might be because of having to set up the new premise. Or it might be the nature of the beast, with the Cold War and MI5 being at the center now. However, it's still the characters and the drama, more than the mystery, that drives Foyle's War. And it's impressive how all the central participants -- starting with writer-creator Horowitz and star Kitchen -- have kept the show as rich, smart and familiar and yet fresh as they do.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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