Sunday, 18 January 2015

Foyle's Finale: The End of an Era

Some eighteen months ago I wrote about the end of another television crime drama, that of Agatha Christie's Poirot. And now, today, is another culmination of a beloved detective series. I stumbled across Foyle's War, a crime drama series set in England during WWII, while on the hunt for films or shows the talented British actor Michael Kitchen had been in. I saw an episode from the second series and was immediately hooked. Nigh on seven years later, I am still as hooked as I was then.

I was studying at the time in the middle of the mountains in Colorado, a veritable backwater (I say this with the deepest affection, by the way), and it was a huge relief (if not a surprise) that the local library had the Foyle's War dvds. I watched them out of order as, wouldn't you know it, other patrons kept checking them out as well. It didn't matter, as they are fairly stand alone 90 minute episodes. At home for Christmas we ordered all the sets and it became a bit of a tradition to watch them each holiday.

Why was I so hooked? Gosh, I could be here all day just on the subject of Michael Kitchen's brilliant and understated acting ability, but let me try to be brief. First off, the quality of the show was excellent. Not only interesting and historically accurate plot lines written by Anthony Horowitz (who also contributed to some of Poirot's screenplays), but the filming managed to capture a nostalgic feel. Set in Hastings on the south coast of England, the scenery itself evoked an earlier, simpler time.

The house used as Foyle's home in Hastings -
taken during my visit in 2010
 Having grown up with the Old Country always present in our house, and my use of knife and fork, odd words like 'chap' and 'pardon', and my lapses into Queen's English spelling constantly being commented on by friends, immersing myself in the world of Foyle felt wonderfully like coming home. I can't explain it eloquently, but it struck a deep chord. Perhaps it was evocative of Enid Blyton's stories (if we leave out the murders) in a way, when boys still wore short trousers, ginger beer was the beverage of choice, and good, old fashioned justice was meted out. My childhood dreams were filled with her stories, and to be honest, I'd still give my right arm to be George (short for Georgina), racing around the English countryside on bicycles and finding secret passageways. One of the main characters, Sam (short for Samantha), is Foyle's driver and reminds me very much of an Enid Blyton character: inquisitive, brave, loyal to a fault, likes a "jolly good murder", and is unendingly jolly. I'd give my right arm to be Sam too, really...

Near "Foyle's" house, looking back towards
the Old Town (2010)
Hasting's Fishing Net Huts (2010)

So, the acting, the quality of production, and of course, most importantly, the stories themselves are reasons why I fell for the series. Foyle's War is not merely a television detective series, but a deeper look at the history of Britain during the war years. We are given an idea of what life on the Homefront was like; it was tough to say the least, and when the world is going to hell, what you really want is a principled, unwavering, honest chap to keep things on a balance. And this is where Michael Kitchen's character of Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle comes in. Unlike some other TV detectives, he doesn't rush around like a headless chicken looking for clues or rough up suspects in dingy interrogation rooms. Foyle is methodical, polite, clever, and need only pierce a wayward suspect with a steely look (which Kitchen is a pro at) to get results. Horowitz is a champion at the murder mystery, and his writing for this particular series was brilliant.

Hasting's Pier (2010)
The backdrop of history is fascinating, and after a few episodes I was back at the library finding all the books I could about the Second World War and Britain's part in it. For in truth, it is my history as well. My family both in England and in Holland were directly affected and involved with the war, as I suppose most people's families were, but I certainly felt closer to my own history after reading all about it. Growing up in a country that was not my own and feeling essentially rootless, learning about what things might have been like for my family gave me a sense of where I come from.

And here we have arrived at just why this show about a provincial detective on the Homefront means so much to me. Not only did it strike a chord and give me a chance to investigate my background, but it gave me the interest in a time period that was so important - everything changed after the war, and the repercussions were felt for decades and decades afterwards. It is only now we are beginning to find the space for reconciliation, as I've discussed before. This interest in all things WWII led to further research, which in turn led to writing, which then led to meeting those with similar interests, and has left me far better off than before, richer in knowledge and ability. Would I have been inspired to write three novels and countless short stories all set around the time of the war if I hadn't been obsessed by this time period? Would I have even dared to pick up my pen? I don't know. Foyle's War was a starting point: from there I was able to discover my passions in regard to history and writing, leading to so many wonderful things. Is there anything better than knowing what it is you truly enjoy?

So, you see, I'm not just sad to see this series come to end, though after 28 episodes and over 13 years I can quite understand Horowitz saying it's enough, I'm also grateful. It's given me quite a lot over the years, and the 'fandom', while small, is unique. I'm often teased for my obsession, but there you have it. It's not just about the actors and their relationships, or figuring out 'whodunnit'; it opened up a world I might never have touched upon. I have never once thought all those hours of researching, or trips to every museum that dealt with the war, or countless books on the subject a waste of time or money. I was learning - not just about the war, but about myself too.

I'm both dreading and anticipating tonight's final episode of Foyle's War. Saying goodbye has never been a strong point, and this truly does feel like the end of an era. But it's been a wonderful ride, and my interest in the series and time period is for life, so it isn't really the end of it all. I'll still research and read and write. I'll re-watch the episodes and remember fondly that there was a time when I saw beyond a detective show and instead saw the boundless possibilities of interest in a subject and what it might bring. We live for our passions; our interests drive us like nothing else, and I shall strive to continue following mine.