TV miniseries catches essence of war

Chris Chan

America has begun a highly controversial war, and the conflict has become a frequent topic of conversation at Lawrence. Opinions range widely, and the opposing sides are struggling to make their opinions heard. Many students are closely following the war on the news, whereas others seek escapism. It’s interesting that one of the finest miniseries in recent years is highly topical, relevant, and sympathetic to many points of view, yet few people seem to be aware of it.

The series in question is Foyle’s War, a four-part BBC series shown recently in America on PBS.

The series is set in England in 1940, when a seemingly unstoppable Nazi Germany was conquering Europe, the United States was staunchly isolationist, and the future of Great Britain looked bleak.

The four stories focus on the investigations of Christopher Foyle, a gifted police inspector. Foyle is staunchly loyal to his nation, and as such tries to enlist in the armed forces, but his pleas are rejected due to his age and capacities for detection.

Foyle remains in England, investigating various murders that take place in the English countryside. Foyle is aided by his loyal and enthusiastic young female chauffeur and his trusted assistant, a veteran who recently lost a foot in battle, and whose marriage may be more severely crippled than his body. Foyle also has a son in the Royal Air Force.

The four mysteries are independent of one another, but the central characters and the themes of war and the home front form the heart of the series.

Foyle’s War is so rich and thought provoking that mere descriptions do not do it justice. The four separate murder mysteries are linked to vital political issues and unjustly ignored historical facts.

It’s the many scenes that reflect the moral complexities and bring little-known historical facts to life that give Foyle’s War depth and soul. The images displayed on the television screen aren’t always palatable, but their horrors do not come from gore and bloodshed. Instead, it is the inhumanities of ordinary people and the terrible necessities of war that make the series emotionally difficult but impossible to ignore.

Picture this: a peaceful-looking hotel in the English countryside. A pianist is playing a jaunty tune to an appreciative audience of well-to-do English people. The song everyone’s enjoying has a very catchy beat. I caught myself tapping my foot to the opening instrumental.

My foot immediately froze once I heard the lyrics. The song isn’t some light Cole Porter tune. It’s a vicious anti-Semitic attack, applauding the Nazis for driving out the Jews and chastising the British government for refusing to eliminate Jewish people from the population. The audience is composed of British Fascists, all adamant that England must immediately withdraw from war with Germany.

Or picture these sights. A little-known fact is that Great Britain ordered that many German immigrants be sent to internment camps during the war. A totally innocent woman with heart trouble is sent to such a camp and is left to die on a filthy floor while unconcerned English soldiers walk by. Her only crime? Marrying a German musician and having him take her photo. (It was illegal for many German immigrants to own cameras, for fear that they might be used for espionage purposes.)

In another scene, a conscientious objector is denied exemption from military service, and is then sent to a prison cell, where sadistic guards spray him with a fire hose.

Perhaps the most poignant recurring scenes involve fathers and sons. Throughout the series, fathers explain to Foyle why they are proud that their son has enlisted in the war, or alternatively, why their son’s life must not be wasted upon the battlefield.

Foyle’s War discusses many of today’s controversial issues intelligently, without ham-handedness or contrived situations or preachy speeches. Anthony Horowitz, the show’s creator, clearly has a point of view and a message, but it’s one that does not divide his audience on “liberal” or “conservative” lines. It voices issues and opinions almost unexpressed today without hatred or contempt.

The series is available on video and DVD, and there is no reason why students should be wasting their time on idiotic gross-out so-called comedies when shows like this are available.

The various political groups at Lawrence should come together to watch screenings of the four 90-minute episodes and discuss them afterwards. There are all too few occasions when television can be used to bring a campus together, and it would be a sin to waste such a rare opportunity.

There’s been a lot of ill will among opposing factions lately, with a lot of angry rhetoric and blunt opinions. Foyle’s War is a rare triumph, for it addresses the issues head-on without alienating anyone (unless you happen to be an anti-Semitic Fascist, in which case you might want to seek alternative informative entertainment).

Foyle’s War may be set in 1940s England, but it’s highly relevant for America in the early 21st century. No one can go without seeing this series and consider themselves educated about the war.