Thursday, July 1, 2010
If by some chance you haven't watched Foyle's War, the English TV series - well, do. Everyone says it's a great series. This is one of those cases where everyone is right.
(It's a detective series, of course, set on the south coast of England during the war.)
Every episode is taut, very smart, very complicated, very satisfying.
In some of the early episodes, there were bits of heavy-handed leftist preaching, of the usual entertainment-industry-turned-propagandist kind. (Rich people, bad. Americans, deeply bad. Gays, good. A Communist character, saintly.) Interestingly, this drops away as the series goes on. It's as though the writers gained confidence that they didn't have to please the invisible Politburo any more, and could write as intelligently as they liked.
The series takes its Second World War history seriously, not solemnly, and does a remarkably good job with it. There are anachronisms though. Maybe inevitably, it's sometimes the 1940s refracted through today's preoccupations and standards of politics, sex, and personal relations.
But the anachronism that really strikes me is the sleekness of the series' England: outdoor and indoor scenes alike. The buildings and rooms somehow look like England today, despite the strictly period objects. The England I knew as a kid in the 1950s and even in the 1960s was infinitely shabbier. The outsides of buildings were sooty and badly kept up, interiors were tired and often horrifically wallpapered, with ugly furniture almost everywhere. Things were certainly worse, not better, during the war. Perhaps it's impossible to convey on film today, maybe even impossible for postwar people to imagine fully, the texture of how much poorer the world was seventy years ago.
Still, Foyle's War is a great series. All the episodes are available from Netflix. See them if you haven't.
UPDATE: A commentator points out, quite rightly, that the Foyle episodes are littered with linguistic anachronisms - a scriptwriter with a tin ear. Well, "littered" may be a little strong. But it's true: characters talk about things like their "priorities" in life - corporate/New Age-speak unknown in the 1940s. It's odd, and more than occasionally obtrusive, in an otherwise intelligently-written series. The commentator also notes that the series would never allude to anything like the strikes by Communist and fellow-travelling trades unions in British defence industries which took place in wartime while Hitler and Stalin were still allies. There was indeed a curious early Foyle episode in which a Communist character actively opposed (and in fact was trying to undermine) Britain's lonely and desperate war effort against Hitler - until the day Hitler invaded Russia: the screenplay treats the Communist as a hero, almost a saint. There's less of this sort of thing as the series goes on; and it's a good series. But needless to say, there's a lot of this sort of propaganda nowadays, even in good "entertainment".