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DVD Review: Foyle’s War: The Home Front Files Sets 1 – 6

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It is hard to explain why some British dramas catch on so strongly in the United States, and others go almost unknown. Foyle’s War is certainly one that I think should have gained a strong audience in America, but for one reason or another, has remained something of a cult item. Acorn Media have been releasing the series to DVD in America for a few years now, but their new Foyle’s War: The Home Front Files Sets 1-6 collects all 22 episodes in one incredible package.

The initial run of the program was from 2002 to 2008, for a total of six seasons, or “series” as the Brits refer to it. Although it rarely works, in the case of Foyle’s War, the outcry of fans actually succeeded in reviving the show, and a seventh series ran in 2010, and reportedly there is an eighth scheduled for 2013. There were a total of 22 programs produced during the original run of the show, with each year seeing four, three and even just two individual 90-minute installments.

As mentioned, Acorn Media have previously released these as individual DVD sets, each with a single DVD devoted to what amounts to separate TV movies. The new Foyle’s War The Home Front Files Sets 1-6 contains all 22 DVDs in a box-set format, and it is a mighty impressive collection.

First of all, let me just say that using the backdrop of World War II to present murder mysteries was inspired. I have always been a fan of murder mysteries, be they English or American, but Foyle’s War is really something special. With the war raging in the background, there is a much deeper level to all of the stories, and the producers use that to excellent effect.

The titular character is Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), who is based in Sussex, England. The very first Foyle’s War episode is titled “The German Woman,” and is set in 1940. At this time, anyone of German extraction in England was immediately suspect, as the Germans were bombing the country. “The German Woman” refers to the brutal murder of the local magistrate’s wife, who was German. Among some of the townspeople of Hastings (in Sussex), there is kind of a feeling of “who cares” as she was German, but Foyle gets to the bottom of it, and the story is quite compelling.

This level of sophisticated story-telling continues with the remaining three episodes of the first season. They are “The White Feather,” “A Lesson in Murder,” and “Eagle Day.” All four are excellent, and I really enjoy the chronological format as well. This first season is set from May to August of 1940. The second season of Foyle’s War picks up the story in September of 1940, with “Fifty Ships.” This second set also contains four DVDs/episodes, and ends in October 1940.

Set three is also a four-DVD collection, and takes place from February to June 1941. To this viewer, the third series of Foyle’s War was a real peak, maybe the finest of the six. Each of these mysteries does what Foyle’s War does best, presenting a fascinating mystery with the equally fascinating intrigues going on in civilian Sussex during 1941. “The French Drop” is a perfect example of this. In it, Foyle traces a murder back to the mysterious wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE), which is an undercover espionage-training group. The tensions between the SOE and the government in these early days are captivating to say the least.

For whatever reasons, Foyle’s War was off the air in 2005, and the series resumed in 2006, for its fourth season. This season only produced two episodes, although they were both quite good. “Invasion” sees the arrival of American troops in Hastings, who are not made to feel 100% welcome. We are in March, 1942 at this point, and the U.S. has just entered the war in a big way after Pearl Harbor. The other Foyle’s War program for the fourth season was “Bad Blood,” which has some early-21st century parallels thanks to the use of anthrax in biological warfare experimentation.

Season five was also a two-episode affair, and initially aired in 2007. These are two more excellent installments though, without question. “Bleak Midwinter” is appropriately titled, as the show takes place during December of 1942. In this case, Foyle finds himself investigating the mysterious murder of a munitions worker. “Casualties of War” moves the story into 1943, and is one of the more intriguing of the lot. The situation involves more investigation into top secret weapons research, which is always creepy. The show also focuses on domestic events in Foyle’s life, as his god-daughter and her young son unexpectedly come to stay with him. In 2007, viewers must have thought the series was over, as Foyle retires at the end of “Casualties of War.”

The show did return in 2008 however, for its sixth season. The three episodes that comprise season six take place from April 1944 to May 1945. At first, it certainly appears that Foyle’s decision was final, as we are introduced to his replacement. But things get mighty dicey in this one, and Foyle winds up solving not one but two murders. At the end of the show he has decided to put off his retirement until the end of the war.

“Broken Souls” finds Foyle in the middle of a strange situation with a former POW and a psychiatrist at a mental health institution. “All Clear” refers to the end of the war, VE Day, but that joyful event is marred by another murder.

Thankfully, the end of the war did not spell the end of Foyle’s War. The three-episode seventh season takes place in the immediate post-war period of June to August 1945. It was originally transmitted during 2010. “The Russian House,” “Killing Time,” and “The Hide” continue the excellent, theatrical film level quality of the show in fine fashion.

Michael Kitchen does a marvelous job as Christopher Foyle throughout the series, and he gets wonderful support from his co-stars as well. Acorn has not skimped on the bonus features here either, as the set includes interview segments with the creator of the show, Anthony Horowitz and actors Anthony Howell and Honeysuckle Weeks. The making of pieces are also top notch.

Each of these “shows” are really individual movies, and are just the perfect thing for fans of British mysteries. Foyle’s War is one of the finest shows of its kind, and Acorn have made this all-inclusive set available at a very reasonable price. I recommend this one without reservation.

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