Foyle's War, ITV - TV review: Marty Crane brightens up the fog of post-war London

Worth watching for detail-rich historical context of Anthony Horowitz’s plots

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The Independent Culture

One comfort of Foyle’s War, the 1940s-set mystery that has returned to ITV for an eighth series, is that you don’t have to bother paying close attention to the twists and turns of the plot. Like Poirot, Montalbano, George Gently and all the other cosy Sunday sleuths, detective-turned-MI5 agent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) usually obliges with a scene in which he patiently explains what just happened for the benefit of anyone who drifted off during the ad break.

 

So you don’t have to pay close attention to Foyle’s War, but it’s worth it for the detail-rich historical context of Anthony Horowitz’s plots, especially now the series has arrived in the murky moral fog of post-war London. In this episode, the murder of a German translator led Foyle to investigate the labour camps operated by real-life German chemicals company IG Farben and the background of Clayton Del Mar, a US businessman suspected of aiding them.

These investigations were all against the explicit instructions of his boss, Sir Alec Meyerson (Rupert Vansittart), of course. Meyerson held the view that successful business leaders operate in a sphere above law and ethics: “Bloody Nuremberg!” he huffed. “We do not need these industrialists in jail, we need them out and rebuilding their economy.”

The women of this period were considered better off indoors, however, especially pregnant ones like Foyle’s sidekick, Samantha Wainwright (Honeysuckle Weeks) or bolshy job-stealing ones like Vera (guest-star Jaime Winstone). For me, it was Samantha’s MP husband, the man who stood in the way of both these women’s ambitions, who was the real villain of the episode.

Let’s hope Sam gets hold of a (very) early black market copy of The Second Sex and is inspired to ditch him before series’ end. In the meantime, she at least had spirit enough to defy him by volunteering to infiltrate the Del Mar household and act as a spy.

Dodgy Del Mar was played by Nigel Lindsay with a dodgy accent to match. It roamed around the US like a freight-hopping hobo, although, to be fair, it might not have sounded so off-key were Lindsay not appearing opposite dab hand John Mahoney (Marty Crane from Fraiser), who was rather wasted as the bedridden Del Mar Sr. You may have Mahoney pegged as a Chicago native, but he was actually born in Blackpool.

Sammy Davis Jr also had a rough time of it in the Second World War. As we learned in Sammy Davis Jr: the Kid in the Middle (Sat BBC4), it was when he signed up, aged 17, that the entertainer came into contact with the kind of overt racism that he’d previously been shielded from by his life in a New York vaudeville act. After the war came early success with the Will Mastin Trio, then palling around with his hero Frank Sinatra as part of the Rat Pack, numerous high-profile love affairs and the terrible car crash in which he lost his left eye.

The Kid in the Middle attempted to cram all these ups and downs into an hour, and inevitably missed out some important elements. There was almost nothing on his conversion to Judaism, for instance, and not enough on his uneasy relationship to the racial politics of the era.

Interviews with friends and surviving contemporaries (Engelbert Humperdinck, Paul Anka and Jesse Jackson) were an attempt to bridge those gaps but rarely offered much insight beyond the abiding affection he inspired. With a character as resolutely razzle-dazzle as Sammy Davis Jr, it can be near impossible to get beyond the showbiz veneer. Presumably, that’s as he would have wanted it.

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