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DVD Review: Foyle’s War – From Dunkirk to VE Day (Sets One Thru Five)

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[Editor's note: Individual reviews of set four and set five can be found here and here, respectively.]

For Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle, the Second World War may now be over, but the reports of the show's demise have been greatly exaggerated. A new season is currently in production, which will follow the lives of the characters in the aftermath of the war. Of course, just because the series is continuing doesn't mean that the end of World War II on the show shouldn't be celebrated by releasing a massive boxed set of all the episodes that have thus far aired. And, said boxed set is currently being released as Foyle's War – From Dunkirk to VE Day (Sets 1-5).

The set features 19 episodes of the series (four in each of the first four seasons and three in the fifth) on 19 separate discs. The 19 discs represent approximately 32 hours of the show and, despite the title of the set, the story actually begins slightly before the Battle of Dunkirk. The boats do not begin returning with troops until the end of the second episode.

Title aside, what the 19 discs and 32 hours do contain are great performances, excellent single- and multi-episode story arcs, and an incredible attention to detail. Taking the last of these first, the series, from its first episode to its last, squarely places the viewer within wartime England – from the fear that accompanied the Nazi threat and the Blitz to the sense of hope that came with America's entrance to the war to the elation of VE Day, the viewer is given a ringside seat to the goings-on via the police force in Hastings, which lies on the southern coast of England. Costumes, characters, and background stories all feel perfectly thought out and considered. As period dramas go, Foyle's War does a well above average job of giving a sense of the time. Even when an individual episode's plot isn't directly connected with the war, the events taking place in the world are never far from the surface nor the minds of the characters.

Starring Michael Kitchen as Foyle, Anthony Howell as Paul Milner, and Honeysuckle Weeks as Sam Stewart, two people who work for Foyle in Hastings, the series finds its heart in these three characters and their relation to the cases and the war. Watching the first five sets from back-to-back allows viewers to watch them slowly change and grow in response to all that they see and learn. It's a wonderful way to really see and understand the way the war affected the characters and England. Not all series, even period ones, feature such a growth and progression, but watching that progression take place adds to the sense of authenticity the series conveys.

Lastly, it should be noted that even with its excellent costumes, sets, scripts, and performances, Foyle's War wouldn't be what it is without Jim Parker's music. His scores represent the perfect finishing touch on the series. They are simple, haunting, and beautiful, perfectly echoing the entire feel of the series, in which the serene English countryside hides crimes at home and terror from abroad.

The special features in the set are minimal. It doesn't appear as though any new special features exist over the previous individual releases – the case in which each individual set sits is smaller, but that appears to be the only change. There are production notes, interviews with Weeks, Howell, and series creator/writer Anthony Horowitz, as well as making-of pieces, notes on the historical truth behind some episodes, and filmographies. This last item is, upon viewing, perhaps a little odd. As the different previously released sets have all been compiled into a single release, and each set previously contained filmographies on the main actors, one can see the filmographies grow from the first set to the last.

Producing a mere 19 episodes from 2002 to 2008 hasn't been an exercise in laziness for Horowitz and everyone else behind Foyle's War. Rather, they have managed to craft 19 separate, intriguing mysteries which all connect together to tell a larger story about several characters fighting for their country as they were best able to when their country needed them most. Every detail feels perfectly thought out and well-executed and the show, while it deals with many sad moments, is a pleasure to watch. It will be exceedingly interesting to see what the future holds for Foyle and company now that the war has ended, and, as noted in the review of set five, perhaps ended in something of an overly tidy fashion.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.