Foyle’s War, final episode review: Is this really goodbye?

January 19th, 2015

We all like to see a great series go out with a bang, and Sunday night’s episode of Foyle’s War (ITV) certainly finished on a big one. But I’m not at all sure that – if I hadn’t been forewarned by last week’s sudden announcement by ITV – I would even have realised this was supposed to the swansong of one of British television’s best loved characters.

Far from it. With a plot packing in an audacious assassination attempt, postwar black-marketeering, Soviet spymasters, a scandal within the Security Service and a conspiracy to falsely incriminate a member of parliament – this felt more like a series at the height of its powers rather than an invitation to bid farewell to dear old Christopher Foyle, that most decent and understated wartime copper who latterly morphed so successfully into MI5’s only reliable chap in the Cold War’s early days.

As such, for ITV to let the axe fall on the series at this particular point seems remarkably bone-headed. Foyle’s War has, since its debut in 2002, been a firm audience favourite (recent episodes pulled in around five million viewers, or a 20 per cent audience share).

Famously, viewer protest pulled the show back from the brink of cancellation twice before. Such fanaticism can be attributed largely to a unique charm of character and performance – not only in Foyle himself, brought brilliantly to life by Michael Kitchen’s muted, charismatic acting style. Honeysuckle Weeks, too, as his impeccably mannered sidekick and driver, Sam Stewart, is another unobtrusive yet magnetic presence; her home life (Foyle doesn’t really have one) offering a window onto the times. Even her departure last night, forced by pregnancy, felt more like a momentary obstacle than a conclusive end.

For viewers inclined to hark back to a Britain united against a common foe, the series’ wartime setting had been a huge attraction. Yet Foyle’s seamless transition to the tensions of the burgeoning Cold War era cleverly maintained the hunkered down attitude while introducing us to an intriguing new era when enemies were still all around, yet no one (not even MI5) knew precisely who or where they were.

Not everything about Foyle’s War was great. The two-hour format that invited some to curl up for an absorbing night in, was for others off-puttingly slow and old hat. And if the reward was a feature-filmish sense of involvement and high production values that lavished attention on costume and period detail (not always accurately, as evidenced by many an incensed reader post on the Telegraph website), Foyle’s unhurried investigative style meant the pace rarely picked up above the stately.

Still the series had a renewed vigour of late. For many – myself included – Foyle’s bleak Cold War escapades rekindled a flagging interest. Creator Anthony Horowitz’s decision to root the postwar stories in real life cases brought new grit and relevance, exploring the early nuclear arms race and resurgent anti-semitism in recent episodes. This episode juggled wartime and postwar eras, echoing a scandal in which young British agents were sent to certain death in occupied Europe by a Special Operations Executive unwilling to admit its network had been compromised, while a subplot involving spivs and police corruption kept bringing us back to 1946. Around this was spun the mystery of an attempt on the life of former SOE bigwig Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington), who survived – thanks to Foyle – long enough to inflict her own brand of explosive summary justice upon her weaselly former SOE boss.

As an episode ending it certainly had a grim satisfaction. But for Foyle himself, the closing scenes had nothing of the finale about them. Quite the opposite. The determined set of his jaw, his lingering final glance towards enigmatic Elizabeth Addis (Hermione Gulliford) spoke, if anything, of many adventures to come.

Given this series’ history of resurrections, it doesn’t seem too great a stretch to hope that some day we’ll enjoy more of them.


World War Two

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