A Fond and Sad Goodbye to “Foyle’s War”

Honeysuckle Weeks and Michael Kitchen in Foyle's War

Over the decades I—like many others when a beloved television series ends—have gone into mourning. Until now, however, I’ve never considered putting on a black armband. But that’s just what I’m contemplating having watched the final three episodes of Foyle’s War, which will be screened February 2, 9 and 16 on Acorn TV.

Honeysuckle Weeks and Michael Kitchen in  Foyle's War
Foyle’s War: Honeysuckle Weeks
and Michael Kitchen

I won’t go so far as to say Foyle’s War is my favorite series ever, but it’s certainly up there. When I think about any series that was more intelligent, more finely produced, I come up with few that compare to what Anthony Horowitz created and wrote over eight spellbinding seasons.

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Anyone looking at it throughout the 12 years it’s been in production and airing might describe it succinctly as a police procedural, which it is, of course, as set in period. The specific period—for those who don’t know (and are strongly encouraged to catch up with on several Acorn DVDs)—is England during World War II and its immediate aftermath. As the Brits do with this sort of thing, it feels as authentic as the statue of Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square.

At first its concerns, as hinted at in the title, seem curious. While the war combusts on the Continent and the blitz waxes and wanes, middle-aged police detective Christopher Foyle looks into murders occurring in and around the southeast coastal village of Hastings.

Ah, but the disturbing Hastings events are just what distinguishes Foyle’s War. What struck creator-writer Horowitz as he developed the series was how the WWII tentacles stretched throughout England, reaching even remote Hastings—or maybe, not so remote: It faces France across the Channel.

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With every episode Horowitz—and Foyle—encountered another societal complication brought on by the war. How had the town reacted to long-term citizens who’d come from countries with which England was battling, like Italy? What was going on behind the closed doors of the nearby munitions factory? What about expatriates who’d chosen to settle temporarily in Hastings?

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For its ardent followers, part of the eventual Foyle’s War astonishment was the seemingly endless spins on encroaching problems. What persuasively real snafu would Foyle have to deal with as the next dead body turned up? Horowitz never ran out of them. It seemed that only when the war ended in 1945 would Foyle cease encountering the latest war-born challenge.

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But that wasn’t to be. Whether fans balked at the prospect of the series demise, clamoring for more and got it, I don’t know. (I wanted more but did nothing about it.) Or whether Horowitz had already understood postwar occurrences historically presented their own obstacles, I also don’t know. What I do know is that the plot-rich Horowitz found a way to bring Foyle into London and have him recruited as an unlikely MI5 operative.

That’s where he’s been investigating for a season or two. That’s where he carries on investigating in the final three episodes, which in my estimation are as brilliant as any that preceded it.

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The issues Horowitz takes up in the highly intricate scripts are (get this for contemporary pertinence!) oil in “High Castle,” (get this for contemporary pertinence!) British anti-Semitism in “Trespass” and (get this for boldness) corruption within MI5 and its previous Special Operations Executive (SOE) division in “Elise.” That finale is also pertinent as it complements recent darker aspects of the so-called “Good War” currently examined elsewhere in, for instance, The Imitation Game.

Intriguingly “High Castle” and ”Trespass” focus on father-son relationships—in both instances they’re fathers and sons in felonious undertakings. These concerns echo Foyle’s own forthright relationship during earlier series episodes with his son, a pilot injured in the war. Surely, this secondary theme is important to Horowitz. It would be of interest to know how deliberate these excursions into personal bonds are to him—or whether they’re merely accidental.

Interestingly, Foyle’s pivotal role is that his private life stops occupying Horowitz as he goes about his MI5 snooping. If any scene takes place in his digs, I don’t remember it. There’s the hint of a romance with a mysterious woman called Elizabeth Addiss, but only a hint. What sticks with me is Foyle in his overcoats, his interchangeable three-piece suits and ties and his thinning ginger-gray hair, more or less uncombed.

But that’s it about Michael Kitchen as Foyle. Apart from the occasional glimpses of his home life in earlier seasons, he looks and does pretty much the same things when poking into homicides. Throughout most of his baffling escapades, he does little more than chew the inside of his thin-lipped mouth, skew his lower lip, allow only the slightest hint of a smile and peer without commitment when asked a question to which he finds no reason to answer.

Despite that, or maybe because of that, he’s one of the great unforgettable television series characters. That’s because what he radiates is intelligence, confidence, quiet authority. Especially these days among compromised protagonists, he’s a throwback to the days when fathers knew best. He’s an example of a father who doesn’t dun associates with his knowledge but is prepared to wait for them to take his acumen on board. When they do, that’s his triumph.

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Through the entire series, Foyle’s loyal, adventurous and also intelligent driver is Samantha, known as Sam and played with aplomb by Honeysuckle Weeks. Indispensible to Foyle as well as to viewers, Sam does go home regularly in London. She marries a member of Parliament from a small downscale constituency, which means she becomes caught up in other facets of postwar affairs. Again, Horowitz finds ways to weave differently colorful threads into his tapestry.

Luckily, bringing Foyle’s War to a halt doesn’t signal Horowitz’s removal from the world of series. Evidently, he dotes on them. There’s the Alex Rider series for young adults. There are the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, published by HarperCollins—the just-published one called Moriarty. Shortly, the prolific author embarks on a James Bond novel, based, I’m told, on an Ian Fleming outline.

I can only say that when I finished watching the “Elise” finale, I was so sorry about getting no more Horowitz-Foyle entries that I decided I’d drown my sorrows in Moriarty. With its oblique entrance into Conan Doyle’s realm and its utterly surprising denouement, it has done wonders to assuage my couch potato’s grief.