For some reason that remains unclear to me, nobody does period drama on television like the British. Recently released to DVD, Foyle's War: Set 4 proves to be no exception.
The series, which takes place during World War II, follows Michael Kitchen as Christopher Foyle, Detective Chief Superintendent in the town of Hastings on the British coast. The secondary characters feature Foyle's driver, Samantha Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks), and Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) as his second in command.
A veteran of World War I, by the time Set 4 of the series comes around (covering Series 4 & 5), Foyle has more than accepted that he will not make it into the War Department to aid in fighting WWII. However, every episode is not without its links to the war, either via spies, profiteering, the arrival of U.S. soldiers, or some other hook. Due to Hastings's proximity to the Continent, none of the war elements of the plots feel in any way out of place.
The four feature-length episodes that make up Set 4 take place between 1942 and early 1943. The episodes often make references to historical events so as to better establish when they are taking place. In the first episode, "Invasion," much time is spent on the arrival American GIs to England, and a base they are establishing outside Hastings.
One of the strongest of the four episodes, this one focuses extensively on Foyle being placed between the townsfolk of Hastings and the fish-out-of-water Americans. The usually reserved Foyle is cajoled into helping the Americans understand differences between themselves and the British. In the way that only fiction can make happen, Foyle's helping the Americans creates tension and awkwardness when a British barmaid just happens to be found murdered on the American base and Foyle wishes to investigate. While the barmaid lived in Foyle's community, the American base is, technically, American soil, thus her death did not happen in his jurisdiction. Foyle negotiates the difficulties with aplomb, which is just about how he seems to do everything, and manages to solve the case.
In fact, one of the few moments in which Foyle gets truly rattled is the fourth episode, "Casualties of War." Here, though the case does get to him, it is the "B" story of Foyle's goddaughter and her son showing up unexpectedly at his home that truly puts Foyle off-balance. Foyle's goddaughter, who disappeared a decade ago, miraculously resurfaces on Foyle's doorstep. In tow, is her son who has been traumatized by the bombing of his school and who consequently refuses to speak. Foyle has no idea how to deal with either mother or child and fumbles to get a grip on the situation before eventually doing his best with a tough situation.
As a whole, Foyle's War deftly manages to balance stories about the personal lives of the characters alongside stories about the war and various crimes in Hastings. The main criticism of the series is that, a little too often, it has a "one man against the world" feel to it, despite the fact that Foyle seems to have quite capable help in the form of Sam Stewart and Sgt. Milner. Foyle does not seem the sort to surround himself with less than competent people, but too often it is he that solves every little facet of the crime, prevents international incidents, and saves the world on his own.
The visuals in the production are wonderful, everything and everyone looks like they have stepped right out of the early 1940s and, in one of the extras featured on the DVDs are notes on the historical truths behind the events depicted (cultural clashes, spying, women entering the workforce, etc.). Reading these notes and watching the episodes it becomes clear that much time and effort was put into making everything as realistic as possible.
It is precisely this sort of attention to detail, coupled with Kitchen's superb portrayal of Foyle and some interesting mysteries that make Foyle's War: Set 4 truly enjoyable to watch.