By Aljean Harmetz | Thompson on Hollywood September 8, 2013 at 6:34AM
September 15, on Masterpiece Mystery, former Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle will begin a new war.
If a television series can win the lottery, “Foyle’s War,” the British series about a policeman solving crimes against the backdrop of the Second World War, has won not once but twice.
In 2000, ITV, Britain’s commercial public television Channel 3, suddenly decided it needed a new detective since its iconic “Inspector Morse” was coming to an end. “About 300 ideas were submitted,” said Anthony Horowitz, the creator of “Foyle’s War,” in a 2002 interview. “They kept winnowing it down, and eventually only three were left. ‘Foyle’s war” was one.”
Cancelled after seven seasons by a new team brought in to run ITV, “Foyle,” which had been nominated for a BAFTA award as Best Drama Series in 2004, adamantly refused to die. “There was a huge uproar from both the audience and the critics,” says Jill Green, the program’s executive producer, in a telephone interview. “People kept writing to ITV. It was the real Jewel in the Crown for ITV.”
And then Acorn Media, which had DVD rights to “Foyle,” jumped in and purchased all rights to the series, thus leaping for the first time into original programming. All that remained was finding Michael Kitchen as Christopher Foyle a new war since with the end of World War II DCS Foyle had retired.
There is no black and white in Foyle’s new war.. There is only gray. It is, literally and figuratively, a Cold War. The good guys may still be trying to make the world safe for democracy, but they are being corrupted as they borrow the tools of the bad guys.
“The challenge,” says Green, “was to bring Foyle into a world that was quite different. We made a decision to make it a dark show, very much foreboding, claustrophobic. ‘The Third Man,” ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.’ A much more complicated world.”
The intelligent, enigmatic Foyle, who is unfailingly polite, even to his enemies, has been recruited by MI5, Britain’s secret service. “A very lateral thinker, thoughtful, a character who never rises to the bait, his style would make him a good intelligence agent,” Green says. “He has a strong moral line on the way people should behave. When he’s seeking out the truth, he doesn’t give up.”
Critics and audiences in the UK, where the new season aired in April, have welcomed Foyle back with the proverbial open arms. ”We got almost 9 million viewers for the first episode, two million more audience than the previous series,” says Green. (In the US, the three episodes will stream at www.Acorn.TV the day after each is broadcast on Mystery and will be available on DVD/Blu-Ray on September 24.)
“Michael Kitchen’s honest, straight-talking, intelligent, tolerant, quietly impressive Foyle fits his new role in counterintelligence like a glove; it’s surprising he wasn’t recruited before,” wrote the Guardian.
Horowitz, a novelist, playwright and prolific author of children’s books, is basing many of the current and future episodes on little known or little remembered incidents from the early years of the Cold War. Next season he will delve into the politics of the oil industry and into trading with the enemy, according to Green.
“What makes the return of ‘Foyle’s War’ such a joy is not the narrative, but the mood,”wrote the Telegraph. “The pith of the writing, the depth of the detail of the brewing Cold War, and above all the richness of the performances… His absence left a hole in the Sunday night schedules. It is lovely to have him back.”