Monday, 25 March 2013

REVIEW: Foyle's War 8-1: The Eternity Ring

Foyle’s War returns for an eighth series, almost eleven years since its debut. The last run aired three years ago, at which point the creators of the series had already run out of war. After three stories set in WWII’s aftermath, series seven ended with Foyle heading for the United States. He returns to Britain after a year or so away, to the London of 1946, characterised by rationing, bomb damage and the slow return of demobbed soldiers from overseas.

The series could very easily have ended with the war, or have been content to tread water in a perpetual nineteen forty-something. Gratifyingly, creator  Anthony Horowitz has avoided such temptations and moved the series forward, first with the immediate aftermath of the War in the previous season, and now with a more distinct change of direction. Having spent many years protecting Hastings from wartime criminals, Foyle is persuaded to remain in London working for MI5 in the chillier climate of the burgeoning Cold War.

While such a shift was necessary to give the series new life, the fundamentals that made earlier instalments so successful have not been forgotten. Foyle remains the committed policeman he always was, and Michael Kitchen’s exemplary performance remains a masterclass in taciturn understatement. Foyle’s uneasiness in his role at MI5, due to a mix of respect at their work and contempt at their methods, takes him out of his comfort zone and gives Kitchen plenty to underplay. Ellie Haddington is almost as good as Foyle’s amoral equal, his superior Hilda Pierce, and the remaining players in the game of Intelligence are, on both sides of the board, on top form throughout.

Foyle’s War wouldn’t be the same without Sam, of course, and she is dragged into this new world of spies and cover-ups by her employment by a leading atomic physicist. It is her connection to him that is used as the excuse to bring Foyle into MI5, with his connection to Sam, here accused of supplying data to enemy agents, as a reason to bring him in on the investigation. Satisfyingly, Foyle’s dogged police nature isn’t overlooked or amended by this new role; in fact, it is the very reason he is considered valuable by the Intelligence service, which requires some good, old-fashioned police work.

Naturally, we don’t believe for a moment that Sam has sold out to the Soviets, but her unwilling involvement in the plot gives Honeysuckle Weeks good material and threatens to drive a wedge between her character and Foyle. She has her own problems to deal with too, as her husband Adam (Daniel Weyman) is running for government and she herself is having problems conceiving, a burden she is shouldering alone. Longterm viewers will realise something is wrong as soon as Sam’s famously powerful appetite abandons her at lunch with Foyle.

A separate plot strand is provided by Frank Shaw, a former policeman now returning from armed service in the East. Shaw is well played by Joe Duttine, his storyline capturing the alienation and disenfranchisement felt by many ex-servicemen when arriving back in the country they had fought for, only to found there were no jobs available and that their families had adapted to life without them. Shaw’s wife now works full-time, something that must be terribly emasculating to a former breadwinner now unable to find work for himself, while his sixteen-year-old son works behind the bar at a club. Shaw’s descent from a proud soldier returning home to his attack on one of the club’s “nancy boy” patrons is sympathetically played. Horowitz uses the writer’s licence to use unlikely coincidences to untie these plot strands through Foyle, who both knows Shaw from before the war and now works for his victim. As an aside, Foyle’s stiff-upper-lipped disinterest at what grown men do in their private lives speaks volumes about his progressive thinking for the period, something the series has explored equally subtly in previous episodes.

Placing Foyle in the world of Cold War paranoia has great potential and should provide some interesting storylines. ‘The Eternity Ring’ begins this new phase of the series well, providing an enjoyably twisty-turny web of intrigue and double-cross without ever becoming overly complex. (Not that this is the universal view. There’s a hilarious review on IMDB in which someone who admits to being “not the most cerebral person” complains that they didn’t understand the plot. It was when they said, “as a writer myself” and proceeded to criticise Horowitz that I laughed. Really, if you try reading this piece you’ll see why it’s funny).  ‘The Eternity Ring’ is a fine start to the new series with some accessible Cold War drama. It ends with Sam once again at Foyle’s side (her appointment as his driver being his condition for working for Pierce permanently). I look forward to seeing where this new direction will take them both. I do hope we find out a little more about what Foyle got up to in the States that upset the FBI so much though. What price a one-off special set in America?

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