Commentary From the Mile High City

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Joshua Sharf

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December 9, 2008

The Bradley Effect

Turns out that the Bradley Effect is alive and well, just not in politics. People tell pollsters that the Discovery Channel and the History Channel are the reason they love cable so much. But they really watch the USA network, sports, and Nickelodeon.

May 28, 2008

The Home Front

There's a reason that wartime movies are rarely about the home front. Aside from the fact that the front is where the action is, any good picture derives its energy from conflict, and conflict on the home front can only be bad for morale. Soldiers don't want to see movies about their girlfriends (or worse, wives) fighting over them (or worse, someone else). Those at home are doing their part, usually through some sort of economic sacrifice, and don't want to be reminded that some people cheat, hoard, steal, or lie. Once in a while, but rarely, do you get a "Since You Went Away," which dealt with serious homefront issues, but nowadays seems saccharine.

Which is why a TV series like "Foyle's War" could only be made 60 years after the fact. Its main character, Christopher Foyle, is a police inspector in the coastal town of Hastings. It's as near the front lines as he's likely to get, given that he served in the Great War. Initially eager to leave his posting for something more directly helpful to the war effort - military intelligence or some such - Foyle resigns himself to police work for the duration.

What sustains him and his team is, at first, a deep and abiding sense of justice. Just because the Germans are liable to come swarming over the coast at any moment doesn't mean that a murder victim isn't due justice. Later, as wartime restrictions and rationing come into effect, we get the occasional reminder that hoarding is a betrayal of all those seamen serving on convoys. Likewise, Foyle himself is extremely reluctant to permit any perversion of justice in pursuit of the war effort.

The producers took extraordinary care on historical detail, going back and digitally erasing curbside road markings, satellite dishes, and the like. It pays off in atmosphere, as does the attention to the various British accents. As important is the fact that most of the incidents in the show (aside from the murders), actually took place. A bureaucratic mishap did actually strand English refugees in a schoolhouse that was eventually bombed. Lacking Nevada, the British were forced to conduct certain biological experiments on home soil near populated areas. And so on. Upper-class Brits did hide out at "funk-holes," away from the reach of authorities and the draft.

At least one episode is devoted to wartime relations with their American cousins. At the beginning, an American Army truck convoy, clearly lost in a maze unrelated to any rational grid system, comes roaring through a small town. The episode is titled, "Invasion," and a small boy, seeing the trucks, runs off yelling, "The Jerries are here! The Jerries are here!" The chief engineer's American accent is a little shaky - apparently just as we perceive them to all be speaking in falsetto, they perceive us to be talking through our noses - and the writers eventually settled for having him hail from Massachusetts.

Given that most of the episodes involve some breach of wartime rules, one can be forgiven for thinking that the series is an endless parade of unpatriotic betrayals. But the best murder mysteries always involve people lying for reasons unrelated (or sometimes related) to the murder at hand. Anthony Horowitz and his crew never portray most Englishmen as anything other than muddling through, and the stories he tells are part of the overall history of the war, which we should be well past romanticizing.

Michael Kitchens's performance as unperturbable Foyle, by the way, is masterly. Foyle is reserved, but observant. He never says more than necessary, and Kitchens is able to stay totally in character, portraying surprise, disgust, dismay, or just plain resignation about human nature, with little more than a glance or lopsided expression.

At a time when too many politicians are willing to undercut the war effort, troop morale, and civilian resolve, for their own purposes, "Foyle's War" is a reminder of the close interaction between the home front and the shooting war.


Power, Faith, and Fantasy

Six Days of War

An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud