FOYLE'S WAR The German Woman

FOYLE’S WAR. ITV (UK), PBS (US). Episode One: The German Woman. 27 October 2002 (UK date). Michael Kitchen (Det. Supt. Christopher Foyle), Honeysuckle Weeks (Samantha Stewart), Anthony Howell (Sgt. Paul Milner), Edward Fox, Robert Hardy, David Horovitch, Joanna Kanska, Dominic Mafham, Julian Ovenden, Rosamund Pike, Elizabeth Bell, James McAvoy. Series creator: Anthony Horowitz.

   Eight years after it aired, I finally watched the first episode of the Foyle’s Way series, “The German Woman.” I see what the fuss has been about now.

   Beautifully filmed, splendidly cast and intelligently written, this debut episode in the series has a lot about it to like. As the Detective Superintendent, Michael Kitchen has amazing gravitas and droll charm. His character is Always Right on the weighty moral issues this and other episodes of the series address, and you just wish he were in charge of the whole darn, messed-up world.

   Kitchen seems too splendid an actor for one not to have seen him before — I do remember him from Enchanted April but not from Out of Africa (of course this film is from 25 years ago!) and I can’t recall seeing him anything else. Any road, he’ll be remembered in posterity for this series, I have no doubt, just like David Suchet will be for Poirot.

   As his spunky driver “Sam,” Honeysuckle Weeks is an amazingly appealing presence who gives the series an acceptable bit of Girl Power! She looks so young here too, in this episode from eight years ago.

FOYLE'S WAR The German Woman

   Foyle’s son, Andrew, is played by Julian Ovenden, who had a role in the Poirot film After the Funeral. He makes less of an impression here, but I understand that the character developed more over the course of the series (he did not appear in the latest season).

   Anthony Howell, the very serious son from Wives and Daughters, the 1999 film of the Elizabeth Gaskell novel, plays the very serious Sergeant Paul Milner, the wounded war hero (he lost part of a leg) who goes to work for Foyle in the police force. He’s always a strong and substantial presence.

   The supporting cast is an embarrassment of riches, with David Horovitch (Inspector Slack from the Joan Hickson “Marple” series and Isaac from Ivanhoe) as a victimized German internee, Robert Hardy as a foolish aristocrat (he played this role before — very well — in Middlemarch), Rosmaund Pike (seen most recently in the Oscar-nominated film An Education) as his snide and bratty daughter and James McAvoy — now a major film star — in the small but memorably played role of the lovelorn druggist’s assistant.

   This excellent cast stars in a film that addresses the morality of Britain’s alien internment policy during World War Two. Just as the United States instituted an unjust internment policy in regard to the Japanese residents in the country, so did Britain in regard to Germans and Italians. In some cases, even German Jewish refuges were rounded up — a rather obviously nonsensical policy.

FOYLE'S WAR The German Woman

   The unjustness of all this is touched on by “The German Woman,” and most happily, it’s done within the framework of a classical, Golden Age style British mystery. The German wife of a local bigwig aristocrat is herself left untouched and resentment against her stirs in the local community after a German bomb is dropped on a pub, killing a young woman.

   When the German woman is killed in a particularly nasty way while out riding, it’s thought a local seeking revenge on Germans may be responsible, but other paths of suspicion appear as well, some leading within the confines her own family….

   You might, as I did, suspect a certain party very quickly, but motive still provides an interesting question. The only quibble I would have is that the murderer, when confronted by Foyle, quite improbably confesses; but this is a script convenience I can pass over with so many other excellences. This is British mystery film making at its highest level.

Editorial Comment:   Truth in Advertising. Although I do not remember it, it is possible that the first photo of the three stars together came from this first episode, but almost assuredly the second one did not.