Being a longtime fan of Foyle’s War, I was delighted to learn MASTERPIECE Mystery! is airing three new episodes on PBS on Sept. 15, 22, and 29. Then, the three mysteries will become available digitally at www.Acorn.TV the day after each episode airs on PBS. Better still, on September 24, the episodes will be issued on DVD and Blu-ray with nearly two hours of bonus features. Your choice of viewing will, of course, depend on just how much you like Foyle’s War.
In the first new mystery, “The Eternity Ring,” the former Hastings based detective, Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), finds himself returning from America thinking his wars are over. However, in the tradition of many literary spies before him, Foyle is reluctantly pressed to work for Britain’s MI5 as the Cold War is just getting into gear. At the same time, Foyle’s former driver, newlywed Sam Wainwright (Honeysuckle Weeks), learns her idealistic husband Adam (Daniel Weyman) plans to be a Labour MP candidate. Throughout the following stories, Foyle and Adam Wainwright’s various quests are the primary story arcs with Sam being the bridge between them.
For example, in the second outing, “The Cage,” Foyle investigates the deaths of several Russian defectors and learns a secret facility is abusing its power for the “greater good.” Likewise, Adam Wainwright finds himself at loggerheads with his own party when he learns the government is willing to play fast and loose with the facts to protect their socialist agenda.
By the final episode, “Sunflower,” in which Foyle is assigned the protection of an ex-Nazi responsible for many American deaths during World War II, it’s clear the point of the scripts is to explore what kind of world will be shaped after the defeat of Germany. How much, if anything, has changed? As it was during the war years, it’s clear those with secrets want to keep them secret at often very high costs. The greed and corruption of power brokers isn’t much different than it was when Hitler was the enemy. Once, Foyle dealt with Nazi sympathizers; now, he encounters those supporting Stalin, especially scientists who believe there should be no atomic secrets at all.
If these themes sound familiar, they should. Much of the material is based on research into the times with echoes of the Cambridge Spy Ring and literary tropes seen in the works of Somerset Maugham, Eric Ambler, and John Le Carre’. But the obvious historical references are blended with creator Anthony Horowitz’s imaginative hand at crafting plots with unexpected twists and turns and surprising climaxes. While the core cast of characters were previously established and fleshed out during the first seasons, the new players fit their bills perfectly and are never two-dimensional heroes or villains. Counter-espionage, after all, is murky business that defies the values of stalwarts with moral certainties like Foyle and Adam Wainwright.
For those just being introduced to Foyle’s War, the bonus features include a six minute recap of the previous seasons. There are also 86 minutes of four behind-the-scenes featurettes revealing how the company did its homework to create visual realism with meticulous detail. This included putting the Wainwrights in pre-fabricated housing as such homes were becoming commonplace, finding the correct paperclips in the typing pool at MI5, to recreating 1946 London on modern Dublin streets.
There are also 15 minutes of writer Anthony Horowitz introducing each episode. He discusses the historical contexts for the creation of each script, including establishing the climate of the times which were deeply pessimistic as such things as rationing were still a part of British life. He also notes how the stories resonate today. For example, “The Cage” was about a secret interrogation unit that employed torture in 1946—raising precisely the same issues as those now involving Guantanamo Bay.
In short, if you’re among those who admired the previous seasons of Foyle’s War, odds are you’ll want to pick up either the DVD or Blu-ray sets with all the high-quality bonus material. While there’s no hot war raging on the continent anymore, all the elements that made Foyle’s War the success it’s been for over a decade continues on every level. Better yet, we’re getting signals the saga may have more chapters to come. Seems they already have useable story ideas taking Foyle and company up through 1949. I’ll be watching.