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What Joss Whedon is to creative science fiction, Anthony Horowitz is to British murder mysteries. Having graduated from the equivalent of the Agatha Christie School of Screenwriting complete with an ITV style doctorate in Hercule Poirot, Horowitz laid the groundwork for what I feel is the definitive screen representation of Poirot.
With his riveting adaptations of several Christie masterpieces that launched the auspicious long-running David Suchet series, Horowitz set the bar for the hit, which has taken roughly two decades to cover each and every work involving the legendary writer’s most famous detective.
Using his same unrivaled skill for dissecting the “little gray cells” to craft the most exquisitely intricate mysteries, Horowitz brought Caroline Graham's novels to life and surpassed Poirot with the creation of what is widely considered the "quintessential British village mystery series," with Midsomer Murders, which count everyone from the Queen of England to Johnny Depp as fans.
With both Poirot and Midsomer Murders reaching new audience members at the start of every new series, everyone (other than writers, perhaps) may have assumed that the scribe would take a long, well-deserved break from television. Yet fellow writers and especially Horowitz realized that there was still one goal that he had yet to achieve or truly address thus far in his television career.
Namely and despite his increasingly sophisticated and thrilling work on previous programs, Horowitz hadn't broken free of the page to develop a piece of material that came directly from the writer within instead of his perfected art of the adaptation.
And luckily for loyal viewers around the globe who may not have realized the connection between the series and the man typing the first draft, Horowitz tackled this creative challenge headfirst with his most ambitious, research intensive, and unique offering to date with the incomparable Foyle’s War.
Similar to the same experience I had within moments of viewing everything from Upstairs, Downstairs to Cracker to The Office to Life On Mars, I quickly realized that Foyle's War is a truly original treasure of UK television.
While admittedly, my first thought was that the last thing the world needed was another work about World War II, Foyle's approach was unique as it spanned the entirety of World War II from the point-of-view of those battling in their own way on the home front in England.
The tremendously engrossing series stars Out of Africa’s Michael Kitchen in a role that easily bests that of Midsomer Murders Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby with regard to sheer complexity, most likely rooted in the fact that historically accuracy ensures a different type of portraiture and approach.
Still, structurally speaking, Foyle has a lot in common with Midsomer as both work very well purely as intellectually satisfying mysteries filled with red herrings and with a bare minimum of recurring plot threads, ensuring their increasing audience success as standalone mysteries.
However even though they take a backseat to police procedure, nonetheless the heightened era of the war and the intense connections of family, friends, and colleagues, ratchets up Foyle's sense of urgency. Likewise, we feel far more invested in the lives of these main characters as opposed to Murders, especially when you’re viewing the works back-to-back in this wonderful compilation of the entire war era in one box.
Although some marvel at the ironic fact that Kitchen’s Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle is investigating murder during wartime, Foyle’s War consistently surprises viewers with the varied issues raised in this box set’s nineteen episodes. Throughout we find Foyle, his upbeat and vocally uninhibited driver Sam(antha) Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks), and Foyle's disabled war veteran Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) uncovering war profiteering, antisemitism, spying, corruption and more while trying to survive the endless bombing of England and changing attitudes as the war continues.
Additionally fans of Horowitz’s previous titles including Poirot and Midsomer Murders will no doubt recognize the way that his work on those shows benefited the writer immensely in terms of balancing genuine drama with both the right setting and the perfectly twisted mystery as witnessed again and again.
However the fact that I found considerably impressive and enviable was that despite being set roughly seventy years ago, Foyle’s War feels extremely timely today. Admirably and unlike a majority of other World War II pieces, Horowitz's period series avoids the predictably popular black and white sentiment regarding the era by replacing any issue of uncertainty that could arise with and unquestioned and inauthentic nostalgic overboard that "tells" us what to think in simple terms instead of trusting that we're cable of using our brains abstractly.
Thus, instead, by relishing in the gray era of the way that the war brought out unexplored sides of individuals that they'd never knew existed for better or worse, Foyle's War is filled with the type of moral puzzles wrapped up endless twists that make nearly every episode in this collection worth another look. Likewise, it consistently reminds you that you’ve never seen the war presented in both this relatable of a manner and from an insider's perspective, we typically see in documentary format.
Chronicling '40 to '45 or the series bookends of Dunkirk to VE Day, Horowitz and the series’ tremendous cast take you from the unethical board rooms of those still collaborating with Germany to looters stealing heirlooms from bombed homes, soldiers returning psychologically and/or physically ruined and the double-standards for women along with wealthy families who use their money to buy their way out of the draft or German internment camps.
With all five sets consistently ranked in Acorn Media's top twenty bestsellers (including Set 1, which holds the number one spot) and a fan-base so devoted that after its cancellation, they ensured that new post-war episodes are now in production, thanks to the convenience of one box that contained sets 1-5, it was a space-saving answer to get caught up on the War I'd been missing.
Although again after three blockbuster series, Horowitz deserves a creative break, I for one can't wait to see what happens-- in addition to a title change-- when Foyle returns following the end of the war and in the same turn, the ingenious scribe returns with all new British murder mysteries.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.