Foyle’s War is a highly rated, recent British murder-mystery television series set in London and the south coast of England during and after the Second World War. The 8 seasons (28 episodes) weave together actual events of the war and the challenges of the home front with fictional murders and crimes. The titular character, Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), fails to transfer into the military in 1939 and is assigned to Hastings, where he remains for nearly the entirety of the war.
The son of a policeman, Foyle fought in the trenches in the First World War, and although he never talks about the details, it is clear that this was a defining moment in his life: witnessing the taking of human life and the general suffering that people go through. In his detective work, Foyle fights for justice against those taking advantage of tragic situations for personal gain at the expense of those suffering. What the series makes clear is that as a detective, and indeed as a man, Foyle has integrity. Above all, he is principled and honest, and his work as a detective gets to the truth of what actually happened. He is not satisfied with any solution or even any probable solution, but only the solution.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, integrity is linked with issues concerning life (chastity, virginity, human embryos, etc.) and with not causing scandal. Foyle’s character exemplifies these values. In one episode, he notes that two lives were lost when a pregnant woman was accidentally killed. In another, when a women he had once loved before the war tries to run away from her own unhappy marriage and marry Foyle, Foyle explains that he cannot marry her because his wife Rosalind’s death changed nothing; marrying Rosalind changed everything. While as a widower Foyle may be able to remarry, he understands fully what the bond of marriage means and is unwilling to commit adultery by taking another man’s wife.
Foyle’s War also offers commentary against scandal and hypocrisy. Scandal, “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil” (CCC 2284), involves the destruction of integrity. Like the Scribes and the Pharisees criticized by Jesus because they profess one thing but do another, so do officials and civilians in Foyle’s War publicly support their country and the war, yet undermine it with their concern for private profit and individual welfare. Foyle regularly fights against the scandals of corruption, bribery, war-profiteering, spying, and British and American military cover ups, all of which surround a home front littered with bodies from air raids, accidents, and individuals trying to profit from the misery. His integrity leads him to challenge the upper echelons of the police and the various military structures without concern for his job. Indeed, much like St. Thomas More, Foyle will even resign when the necessities of the war effort require the subversion of justice and truth (spoiler alert: Foyle later agrees to resume his duties, so the show continues).
Foyle shows us that integrity involves the whole person and is not merely limited to his professional life. Foyle lives a simple personal life, content with fishing, friendship, and an occasional glass of whiskey. Since he is genuine, he can also see the real character of others and will often assist those caught up in bad situations.
Indeed it is Foyle’s integrity and the value he puts on justice, even if it shakes up power structures, which encourage his senior officers to call him out of retirement. In the early days of the Cold War, they recruit him into MI5. The shift from police work to MI5 duties in the last two seasons does not compromise Foyle’s integrity, however. No longer bound by the normal legal limits imposed upon detectives (e.g., search warrants), Foyle is freer in his methods. But even with this freedom, Foyle maintains his integrity.
St. Thomas More, model of integrity and virtue in public and private life, pray for us.
Image: Royal Air Force, Air Defence is Home Defence