This most recent (and sadly final) run of Foyle’s War has made excellent and appropriate use of its 1946 setting.
Links to the Nuremberg trials in ‘High Castle’ and to the King David Hotel attack in ‘Trespass’ are both of their time. It would have been easy to give us generic crimes in a nostalgic 1940s setting – but instead the show has tried to make the time in which the stories are set entirely relevant to the stories being told.
The same is true of the final episode ‘Elise’ which is tied up with the wartime activities of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). It also asks the question of ‘what happens next’ – that is to say, having done such important and dangerous (and I guess, exciting) work during wartime, how do you go back to normal life in peacetime without feeling a sense of anti-climax?
“We made devices that kill people and we did it rather well,” boasts ex-SOE agent Stafford early on in the episode: “One minutes it’s top secret, cloak & dagger – the next you’re a bank clerk or running a shop.”
It’s also a more ‘personal’ episode than the others. Even before the opening credits MI5 stalwart Hilda Pierce has been shot on the steps of MI5. It’s a sudden and unexpected start, somehow all the more shocking for happening out in the open on an ordinary day.
From this beginning we uncover more and more about SOE during the war, as more and more unexpected friends of Hilda come out of the woodwork. Among them is Dr Addis, Foyle’s part-time acquaintance of the past couple of weeks, who we discover is able to casually march into the office of the head of MI6 at a moment’s notice.
I’m not normally that aware of directorial flourishes, but was very struck by the flashbacks throughout this episode. Unheralded by the usual tricks of a sepia tint or a fade out, the scenes in 1944 play out as normally as the scenes in the present day – and whether intentional or not it has the effect of reminding the audience of the immediacy of events. To these characters in 1946, talking about the War is looking no further back than if I were to mention the London Olympics or the Scottish Referendum.
Amongst the flashbacks, we see Hilda recruit a new operative to SOE (codename Elise). We see Hilda send her off to France on her first mission. And we see her almost immediately caught, tortured and killed by the Gestapo. Hilda’s would-be assassin is Elise’s brother, who believes he has learnt the truth – that SOE deliberately sent Elise, and other agents, to their deaths.
Dogged as ever, Foyle of course follows this trail meaning that ultimately Hilda discovers the real truth, that her former colleague at SOE knew their network was compromised but let her send agents out anyway.
If we started by asking ‘How do you live after the War?’ we end up asking ‘How do you live with what you did during it?’ In the final section of the episode we discover that in Hilda’s case, she can’t live with what she has learnt. An unshowy performance by Ellie Haddington as Hilda makes her final, shocking action all the more moving.
As for Foyle himself, he and the late Hilda Pierce could hardly be described as bosom buddies but there’s a streak of honour and absolute integrity that runs through them both…
…which is why, no doubt, our final shot is of Foyle leaving Hilda’s funeral and very pointedly turning away from Dr Addis and any possibility of a future with her. Is there some hint of attraction there? Yes, probably. But the fact that she can live with the horrible truth that killed Hilda, means she can no longer figure in his world.
Aired at 8pm on Sunday 18 January 2015 on ITV.
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