Monday, September 16, 2013

Foyle’s War: The Eternity Ring (BBC, 2013)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I watched the latest episode of the BBC TV series Foyle’s War, a limited-run series (they only make three episodes per year) that’s been running on BBC since 2002 but which I just caught up to now. It’s basically about Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), the police chief in a small town called Hastings until World War II starts, Hastings is bombed to smithereens in the Blitz, and Foyle ends up in the U.S. At the beginning of this episode, “The Eternity Ring,” the war is winding down and Foyle finds himself along with physicist Prof. Fraser (Stephen Boxer) and Fraser’s wife Helen (Kate Duchene) witnessing the Trinity test of the world’s first atomic weapon at Alamogordo, New Mexico. Then he ends up back in England — not to Hastings but to London, where he’s forcibly recruited by MI5 (the British counterintelligence service, their counterpart to the counterintelligence division of the FBI — their intelligence service, the CIA equivalent, is MI6) and told his job is to break up the “Eternity Ring,” an extensive spy ring that’s so deeply penetrated Britain’s scientific and intelligence community that Moriarty’s organization looks like a weekly poker game by comparison. Foyle teams up with his prewar driver, Samantha “Sam” Wainwright (played by an actress with the virtually impossible name “Honeysuckle Weeks” — when her credit flashed on the screen both Charles and I assumed that was the name of a person!), who’s being framed with a fake photograph to make it look like she’s a contact of the Eternity Ring.

Also among the dramatis personae are Aleksei Gorin (Dylan Charles), a defector from the Soviet embassy in London who steals important diplomatic papers and delivers them to MI5 — though they’re not sure whether he’s a genuine defector or a “mole” — and his theft of the papers is given some highly successful suspense editing and visual atmospherics by director Stuart Orme, whose work through the rest of the show is pretty TV-conventional; Maureen Greenwood (Gabrielle Lloyd, who comes off as the person the BBC calls when they can’t get Judi Dench), the formidable woman MI5 executive in charge of the manhunt for the Eternity Ring; known Soviet spy Marc Vlessing (Nathan Gordon); Max Hoffman (Ken Bones), a physicist colleague of Fraser’s at the British military’s secret nuclear weapons lab, a German expat who was a Communist before the Nazi takeover and who naturally is thereby suspected of being part of the Ring (his defense is that before 1933 if you lived in Germany and had any political involvement at all, you were either a Communist or a Nazi); Tomasz Debski (Gyuri Sarossy, the hottest male member of the cast), a Polish expat who sneaked over into Britain to fly with the RAF, flew 40 missions, then had what would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder and deserted; and Sam Wainwright’s husband Adam (Daniel Weyman), who’s being interviewed by a Labor Party candidate selection committee to see if he’s worth running in a Tory-dominated district in an upcoming special election (or “by-election,” as the British call them).

The sheer number of characters and the quirky relationships between them make this show quite hard to follow — at one point a shadowy male figure entered the scene and both Charles and I wondered, “Is this someone new, or are we supposed to recognize him as someone we’ve seen before?” — and the fact that all the dramatis personae are white and Gavin Struthers’ cinematography, in the worst modern manner with virtually everything either dank green or dirty brown, de-emphasizes their differences in facial features and thereby makes them look very much alike (you can tell the men apart from the women, and the relatively old characters like Foyle from the younger ones, but that’s about all). Charles also had a distaste for the use of the Cold War in the plotting, though that bothered me less than it did him — after all I’ve liked films like Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest that used the Cold War in their plotting because, as St. Alfred says, it really doesn’t matter what the spies are after anyway; the political background of an espionage thriller really isn’t important compared to the characterizations and the suspense. I hadn’t seen Foyle’s War before but I quite enjoyed this episode — more, I suspect, than Charles did — and I’d like to watch the other two in this year’s installments as well.