Sixty years after its conclusion, World War II continues to provide an inexhaustible flow of stories. While many follow traditional narratives of Good vs. Evil on the world stage, a set of quiet television dramas from England have told a different story:
what does the Last Just War look like from the home front?
Foyle’s War explores crime stories in a small village against the backdrop of the war. And Series 4, now available on DVD from Acorn Media, begins at a particular point in the war:
what happens when your allies come to stay and fight the war from your soil?
The first episode, “Invasion,” is a case in point. The story opens with a young boy playing in the street, whose eyes widen at the sound of motors coming up the lane. As Jeeps roll by, he runs back to the house shouting, “The Jerries are here!” The boy’s mistake sets the stage for the next 90 minutes, during which a murder mystery plays out against a background of mutual Anglo-American distrust.
This is, in fact, the sort of video that can be challenging to watch without bringing context from current events. One uncomfortable resonance point includes the angry speech from the farmer whose land is requisitioned by the war department, asking whether the Americans have come to help or to stay. Another, the scene of Foyle providing background on British behavior and customs to a schoolroom full of American GIs, only to be confronted by an isolationist private angry at having been dragged from the US to save the British, is an uncomfortable metaphor for American foreign policy.
What the series does best, though, and what episodes 3 and 4 in the set deliver in spades, is show warfare from the perspective of those left behind at the home front: spouses, retirees, war profiteers, and the police themselves. One critique of the series is that the producers spend so much time on getting the historical atmosphere right and exploring these characters that they can lose the thread of the main plot; with each episode featuring some level of murder mystery or other police case, that can be a little frustrating. But overall the show is one of those rare viewing experiences that is quietly compelling. I’ve tried, and failed, to do other things while the program was on (like for instance writing this review), and for an inveterate multitasker like myself to confess that is high praise indeed.