His war is over, but Foyle is fighting on

Foyle’s War, STV

THE war is over and Foyle won. Perhaps not the war against Hitler, though he did manage to catch a few German spies over the years, as well as various local criminals who thought they could sneak in a few personal murders down there in 1940s Hastings.

But Foyle (Michael Kitchen) won the larger war. The series was notably cancelled a few years ago by an incoming director of programmes who wanted to concentrate ITV’s drama output on shows for younger folks. But they all flopped and the faithful older audience who loved the traditional slow-paced investigations of Foyle’s War were outraged. A new head of programmes took over and Foyle was swiftly brought back for at least one more series.

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That did, however, create a problem, as the scriptwriter Anthony Horowitz had previously been ordered to wrap things up by finishing the war and retiring his lead character. Now he’s got to undo all that, so the drama resumed post-VE Day with DCS Foyle awkwardly still in his post but complaining to his superiors that he isn’t really supposed to be there. “You’re, er, you’re just too good to let go,” they tell him, in a scene Horowitz must have enjoyed writing.

Meanwhile his sidekicks, having been despatched elsewhere, have to be tied into the plot in convoluted ways. His driver and factotum Sam (played by Honeysuckle Weeks who is possibly the poshest person on TV other than the Queen, as well as having the best name) is now working for an artist, whose Russian gardener just so happens to be connected to the latest case that Foyle is working on. He’s tracking another Russian, an escaped prisoner who is desperate not to be sent home. Even the Labour Party canvasser who tries to win the detective’s vote for the upcoming, epochal election – in an unexpectedly topical touch – turns out to be the artist’s son and suspect in a murder being investigated by, guess who, Foyle’s former deputy.

Well, that’s the stuff of detective stories, where everything and everyone is connected, and this was a fine one, with an interesting historical setting. “It’s the end of the war, everyone thinks everything is going to be all right because the good people won,” says one character. But there are always loose ends: soldiers are returning to find their previous jobs gone; women, like the ineffably posh Sam, who revelled in its opportunities are now wondering what comes next. And then there are those Russians, who turn out to be Cossacks who are to be repatriated in a dubious deal, straight to the gulags and Stalin’s revenge.

Horowitz’s script tied all this together reasonably smoothly and, apart from the odd anachronism (did people in 1945 really say “I don’t get it”, meaning they don’t understand something?) the drama is lavishly respectful of its period. That’s helped tremendously by the old-fashioned performances of Kitchen and Weeks.

Kitchen does so little obvious acting that you half-wonder if he’s bored, but it works: he’s as diffident as a 1940s character actor, letting his dialogue trickle out urbanely.

And Weeks’ jolly-hockey-sticks persona is so comfortably familiar without quite collapsing into clich that it’s hard to imagine her playing anyone who owns a mobile phone. Crucially, they both play it absolutely straight, with none of the arch camp of the Miss Marple adaptations.

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As one of ITV’s better drama offerings, bringing it back was a good move.