PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery Deals with Communist Atrocity and UK, US Complicity

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This week’s season premiere episode of the PBS drama series Masterpiece Mystery brought two very happy things. One, the return of the series Foyle’s War for a seventh season is quite welcome. Starring Michael Kitchen as Inspector Christopher Foyle, the chief police detective in a coastal English town during and after World War II, the series includes good mystery puzzles while taking quite seriously the moral implications of all of its characters’ actions.

The second good thing was the nature of the season premiere episode. “The Russian House” dealt with a very serious moral and political issue and foregrounded an atrocity committed by the Soviet Union with British complicity at the end of World War II. The brutal nature of the Soviet Communist regime is quite apparent in the episode. (The show can be found in repeats on local stations and will be viewable on the PBS Masterpiece website.)...

“The Russian House” starts out with a bang: rather than be sent home to the Soviet Union, a Russian soldier in England deliberately leaps to his death.

The narrative establishes that there are 1,200 Russian POWs in England, who fought for the Axis during the war. Inspector Foyle is assigned to find one of them, who has escaped custody and is trying to help others avoid being sent back to the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, a returned English war veteran finds that the job that was promised to be waiting for him after the war is not available.

We soon find out that the reason the Soviet authorities are so intent on repatriating the escaped Russian POW whom Foyle has been assigned to locate is his knowledge of a Soviet atrocity in Odessa after the Yalta agreement at the end of the European hostilities. A boatload of Russian soldiers being repatriated from England against their will was machine-gunned by Soviet soldiers — an act in which the British government was fully complicit....

In any case, one gets the sense that the creator of the show, Anthony Horowitz, drew the character to be interesting and to explore human choices, not as some one-dimensional figure through whom to make obvious points about politics.

“The Russian House” exemplifies this willingness to go wherever the story material leads. The plotline pitting anti-Communist Russian expatriates against Soviet authorities is paralleled by one indicating very dire English political divisions. The murder victim, Sir Leonard Spencer-Jones, is presented as a very good man, and he strenuously opposes the Labour Party, which he says “will bring this country to its knees.”...

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