Sam Riley turns detective in BBC's fictional drama set in London 1941, if Germany had won WWII.

If you’ve seen The Man in the High Castle then you will want to check out SS-GB.

Both are alternate history dramas about what might have been had Germany won World War II. While Amazon Prime’s drama looks at a German and Japanese occupation of the USA, the BBC’s new drama theorises on British life under Nazi Germany.

It’s 1941. Buckingham Palace has been bombed, there are swastikas hanging from buildings, Hitler stamps, and spitfires landing on The Mall.

Our central figure is Superintendent Douglas Archer (Sam Riley), a Scotland Yard detective who must now accede to German rule. Although he tries to avoid politics in pursuit of common law, he bears a grudge, following the death of his wife during bombing.

“The law is all we have and quite frankly I’m it,” he tells his young son, whose interests lie in getting a ‘cool’ Gestapo badge.

However there is also a Resistance movement (isn’t there always?), to which Archer turns a blind eye, given some of those closest to him are active participants.

But the murder of an antique dealer conceals a mysterious plot by the Brits, and Archer encounters bewitching American journalist Barbara Barga (Kate Bosworth). Aussie Maeve Dermody plays his lover Sylvia Manning, resplendent in a Nazi flag in a post-coital scene in a hotel room.

Based on the novel of the same name by Len Deighton, the story presents as a gumshoe detective mystery in the middle of a war genre piece. There’s a bit of fun to be had in playing with how the UK might have looked if history had taken a different detour.

Sam Riley plays a softly-spoken, detective straight out of Bogart-school, even dropping lines like to Bosworth’s American dame like “That outfit’s always going to get you noticed.’ Things get a little more complex as he endeavours to manoeuvre under the eyes of the Nazis, including officer Fritz Kellerman (Rainer Bock, a doppelganger for Allo Allo‘s Sam Kelly).

Director Philipp Kadelbach rolls us back to a world of hat-wearing, coated detectives and femme fatales although the pacing is in second gear despite the menace and loss of home.

But the performances are faithful to the style being attempted here and the CGI works rather well to convince that Britain lost the war. Ultimately the comparisons to The Man in the High Castle will be unavoidable. I’ve only briefly partaken of this some time ago, but remember liking what I saw very much.

At this early juncture SS-GB has some work to do to outrank Amazon’s series, but I’m mindful that stylistically it has a different agenda. Worth a look.

SS-GB screens 8:30pm Sunday on BBC First.

3 Responses

  1. I checked if there was to be a sequel for ‘SS-GB’ in the pipeline but as Len Deighton didn’t write a second volume to his novel, first published in 1978, it would require an original script to be written. The prospect of a season 2 is not that encouraging unlike ‘The Man in the High Castle’.

Leave a Reply