Friday, August 21, 2015

Milner and Bacchus

Some time ago we watched a number of episodes from both Inspector George Gently and Foyle's War. We've been watching them again on Netflix recently, and catching up with ones we missed.

They're two similar series in many respects: both set in the past (the first in the early sixties, and the second during and after the Second World War); both featuring an older and wiser senior detective with a sidekick. The older detective is always on the button, even when things flummox him, and in both cases he has a liberal point of view: not racist, not fazed by people's foibles, and - more in Foyle's case even than Gently's - he is inherently just, which sometimes means letting certain people off the hook. However episodes in both series often end with a hanging.

The biggest difference is between the two sidekicks. Foyle's man, Paul Milner, who was injured in the war and retired from duty, is an earnest, quietly-spoken, almost invisible character who, like a straight man in a comedy duo, asks all the pertinent questions, so that Foyle can pontificate. He's as dull as ditchwater (no fault of the actor, who's given an almost colourless character to deal with). There's another offsider, a young girl who starts off as Foyle's driver, and in the later series is the wife of an aspiring MP. She's a bit more interesting, though she often gets Foyle into difficulties by being too willing to take risks. Milner was eventually retired from the series: he moved to a different station, but even then Foyle came along inopportunely, and solved his cases for him (!)

Gently's sidekick is a Detective Sergeant called John Bacchus. He's presumptuous, arrogant, cocky, racist, chauvinistic and frequently wrong-headed. Even though he seldom solves much on his own, unlike Milner, he has personality in spades (it perhaps helps that he's played by Lee Ingleby, one of TV's top notch actors) and however much he trips up you can't help liking him.

Martin Shaw plays Gently, very quietly, only occasionally raising his voice, and even less often getting angry with someone who's blatantly trying to con the police. Shaw was 62 when he began the series in 2007; he's now 70, and doesn't move any faster than necessary.

The superb Michael Kitchen (who's three years younger) is Foyle. He can take a basic line and give it such emphasis, or surround it with pauses, that you think he's delivering Shakespeare. One of the delights of Foyle's War is Kitchen's acting. And his wry humour. I don't enjoy Shaw so much, though he has the measure of his character, and provides plenty of subtlety within a relatively quiet frame. Sometimes he seems to be given just a bit too much of the older, wiser stuff (though Bacchus can be such a dolt it's not hard), but he seldom overplays it.

The stories vary in intensity and interest. In general the supporting casts in the Gently series seem better than those in Foyle. But it's probably a moot point. There are plenty of good actors in both series, including some now famous faces in the earlier episodes, including David Tennant (Dr Who) and Emily Blunt.

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