Resurrected from the dead, Foyle’s War returned to Masterpiece Mystery on Sunday with The Russian House, the first episode in its sixth season in what may very well be its last hurrah. Since 2003 we have been entertained by the stoic Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) and his young entourage as they solve crime and uncover murder in the small seaside village of Hastings in East Sussex during WWII. As the plotline progressed and the war ended its British producer ITV thought it was finished as well and canceled the show. The public did not agree and a groundswell of support convinced them to attempt one more season. So, here we are two years later with three new episodes to savor while they last. For any who have not seen the first five seasons, you have a treat in store. Foyle’s War is the thinking man/woman’s mystery series with a superb cast, great production values and a parade of venerable British actors as guest stars. If this first episode is any indication of its continued quality then we can settle in again for some first rate crime drama.
The story begins three months after the surrender of Germany in April 1945. Britain is ready to move on and so is DCS Foyle who would like to retire and move to the US but must stay another month because of staff shortages. Samantha “Sam” Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) his driver during the war is working as a housekeeper of a famous artist, and DS Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) his former partner has been promoted to Detective Inspector for the nearby Brighton police force. When Sam’s employer Sir Leonard Spencer-Jones (Christopher Good) is found dead in his home DI Milner has several suspects, namely the deceased’s disinherited son Maurice (Tom Goodman-Hill), his disgruntled former gardener Tom Bradley (Tom Brooke) and Niko Vladchenko (Dimitry Drannikov), a young White Russian P.O.W. working at his estate. Meanwhile, Foyle has been asked by Brigadier Timothy Wilson (Tim Pigott-Smith) of the British War Office to locate Ivan Spiakov (Marek Oravec) a fellow Russian prisoner of Niko’s who escaped rather than face repatriation to mother Russia per the Yalta agreement between Churchill, Stalin and FDR. Why someone so high up in government should be concerned with one escapee pique’s Foyle’s suspicions. After Niko also runs off, Sam convinces Foyle to let her join him on Ivan and Niko’s trial to the Russian House in London, a safe house for anti-Stalinists. While there Sam meets Adam Wainright (Max Brown) an interesting and handsome young gentleman also staying at her hotel. Foyle becomes even more suspicious of Brigadier Wilson’s reasons for locating Ivan Spiakov as darks secrets surface about British and Russian post war prisoner exchanges. As always, Foyle’s perceptive instincts uncover Sir Leonard’s murderer back in Hastings and DI Milner is taken down a notch.
Actor Michael Kitchen’s underplayed acting can say more with one knowing glance or silent pause than most actors can relay with a whole speech. Few actors command this kind of attention on screen. Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood also come to mind. On the other hand, his sidekick Sam Stewart is the complete opposite. She is exuberant, unguarded and open, ready to express her opinion without reservation. This Holmes & Watson combination is what makes this series so successful. That, and the undercurrent of unscrupulous morality that permeates through out the plots. War is hell and things are done. Now in post Foyle’s war Briton we see deceit, deception and murder continue and flourish in new ways. The plot of The Russian House reveals the dark underbelly in history that always follows in the wake of war; governments scrambling to hide crimes, smooth over past indiscretions and get in bed with former allies even though they disagree with their morals. It can be as ugly as the battlefield and great fodder for a crime series. This clever story filled with dubious characters and intrigue did not disappoint. Where the plot will take us is in the next two episodes can only get better. Sam has a possible love interest brewing, Foyle is closer to moving to the US to take care of that mysterious unfinished business and DI Milner might just realize how much he learned in the shadow of the master. Miracles, and murder, can continue to happen as Foyle’s Cold War of the 1950’s approaches.
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