Television Review – SS-GB (2017)

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The story of the Second World War has been the subject of all manner of films and TV programmes; so many films and TV programmes that the time it would take to watch all of them would likely be longer than the war itself. However, writers and filmmakers have always pondered what the world would have looked like had things diverged from the history we all know.

The scenario that is as popular as it is nightmarish is the one in which the Nazi’s have won the war with the world firmly trapped in their tyrannical grip. It’s this nightmare world that is the setting of SS-GB, an ambitious BBC drama miniseries that attempts to tell a story of murder and espionage in a Britain under Nazi rule, with somewhat mixed success.

Based on the novel of the same name by Len Deighton, the series takes place in November 1940, several months after the United Kingdom has lost the crucial Battle of Britain and the country placed under the occupation of Nazi Germany. As the Germans begin to tighten their grip on the country, Scotland Yard detective Douglas Archer attempts to investigate what initially appears to be a simple murder, but soon uncovers links to the British resistance movement and shadowy plans of the Nazi dictatorship’s attempts to build an incredibly powerful weapon of mass destruction.

The main draw of a series like SS-GB is its nightmarish setting, and it is in creating a living, breathing depiction of what life might have been like had the Nazi’s managed to successfully conquer Britain that the series truly excels. From the ruins of a destroyed Buckingham Palace, a Swastika draped Palace of Westminster, to even the small details like the Star of David stitched to a passing man’s coat, the series is full of stark and terrifying images of a world that almost could have happened.

The back-story and world of the series are fascinating to ponder, with the series discussing the various points of divergence from the real world that is sure to delight those with an interested in the history of this era. From the friendly relationship between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, in contrast to their brutal conflict with each other as in the real world, Winston Churchill having been executed by the German occupiers and a resistance movement counting to fight the Nazi’s across Britain.

The acting, for the most part, is excellent, with Sam Riley making for an effective and fascinating leading man as Detective Douglas Archer, a detective conflicted between doing his duty as a police officer, but disgusted at being forced to work with his new German superiors, yet deeply cynical about the chances for a successful rebellion against the occupying enemy.

James Cosmo also gives a fine performance as Archer’s veteran partner Detective Harry Woods, with him often providing some much-needed guidance to his friend, while also trying to be true to his duty as a police officer in the strange circumstances.

The German characters are admittedly something of a mixture of stereotypes when it comes to depicting Nazi’s. Particularly Archer’s new superior sent from Berlin, the sinister Dr Oskar Huth as portrayed by German actor Lars Eidinger, who while certainly being an effective villain to Archer’s heroics, with Eidinger giving a fine performance, is very much your clichéd sinister Nazi complete with the trademark leather coat and gloves.

While the acting is largely fine throughout, the actors, particularly the British ones, do have a tendency to mumble their lines which can often make it slightly difficult to make out what’s being said. While not a programme running fiasco, as was the case with the BBC’s widely criticised drama Jamaica Inn, it does prove to be a tad annoying and does undermine what are otherwise fine performances.

The pacing of the series is also another hurdle with it often feeling a tad too slow at times and in my view the series is perhaps an episode or two too long, with the series likely having been better with three parts instead of five, as it’s the middle episodes where the series really drags in my opinion.

The final episode is also very much a mixed bag with it having an excellent first half, full of excitement, suspense and a good dose of action to boot, but it somewhat runs out of steam in the second half as the series rushes in an attempt to tie up its various plot threads, resulting in a rather disappointing and somewhat open ending that still leaves a few vital questions unanswered.

SS-GB is a flawed but otherwise decent series, but one that falls very short of being a great series. The depiction of Britain under Nazi occupation is certainly a striking world to tell a murder mystery, and the acting is largely solid throughout, with Sam Riley being a solid leading man, even with the mumbling problems. Overall, the series is an enjoyable watch that doesn’t quite live up to the potential that its nightmarish setting offers.

[rating=3] | Graeme Robertson

Drama, War | UK 2017 | 15 | 2entertain | 27th March 2017 (UK) | Dir.Philipp Kadelbach |Sam Riley, Kate Bosworth, Rainer Bock, Lars Eidinger, James Cosmo | Buy:[DVD]