Sunday evening a new TV show – SS-GB – started on the BBC, it is an adaptation of the novel by Len Deighton in which Nazi Germany won the war with Britain. It is similar in vain to The Man In The High Castle and Fatherland. I think such a series can give the BBC a much needed boost, but have they succeeded?
SS-GB is set in an alternative historical timeline in which Nazi Germany won the Battle of Britain. Now that Great Britain is taken over by the Germans inspector Douglas Archer (played by Sam Riley) tries to continue his career in the police force. Archer and his colleagues despise having to take orders from Nazi’s, but he believes the police work should continue. Archer even states to a journalist that they are not political, but how long can he keep that promise when persecution has already begun.
SS-GB paints a believable world and focuses a lot of its attention on the consequences of Nazi occupation. Every character had a life before the war that is very different from the one they have now. For Douglas the circumstances change rapidly when he becomes involved in a homicide investigation. What appears to be at first a simple murder of a black market hustler quickly evolves into a plot involving the resistance, the SS, an American Journalist and an unknown weaponized disease. On the German side the investigation is taken over by SS Standartenführer Oskar Huth (played by Lars Eidinger). Huth is the quintessential Nazi bad guy. He is very violent and absolutely protective of every bit of his authority.
Yet Huth is also captivating. Right from the beginning of the investigation Huth appears to know everything. He is intimately familiar with what Douglas has been doing and what his colleagues think of Nazi’s. And yet as a viewer I cannot help but feel some affection for him – an evil version of Sherlock Holmes. It is an effect that came about from Game Of Thrones. All the bad guys (and girls) are clever and all the good guys (and girls) are stupid, melodramatic and easily fooled. You cannot help but feel attached to Tywin Lannister, or Huth, or even Himmler and Blake from The Man In The High Castle. Yet, SS-GB is not as melodramatic as that latter TV show. Huth seems like a complicated character. We will see down what rabbit hole Douglas is sent.
Game of SS-GB
The producers of SS-GB may have taken more inspiration from Game Of Thrones. There is at least some male nudity, even if it is a gross corpse on a mortuary slab. However, that all fits nicely with the darker under current of the story. As it is late 1941 the Nazi have just started to get the holocaust in full swing. The persecution of minorities and undesirables becomes an important plot element as nobody is absolutely sure of the background of friends, colleagues or even oneself. This theme ties in nicely with Douglas’s colleagues, such as the morose and often drunk Harry Woods (played by James Cosmo) and Douglas’s bit on the side Sylvia Manning (played by Emily Blunt lookalike Maeve Dermody).
The episode starts with Douglas and Sylvia sharing a bed. As the episode progresses she starts to feel pressure as background checks on her police colleagues are made. She instigates the theft of blank passes and by the end of the episode all but confirms to Douglas that he is a collaborator. This effectively sets in motion Douglas’s. He begins to become desperate to save his friends and family from Nazi persecution. That means he knows what the Nazi’s can do. Yet his life as a detective draws him further into the mystery of the murder of the black market merchant and Huth’s involved.
The first episode of SS-GB was excellent. It had the right formula and sets the scene for the remainder of the season very well. I can only hope the show continues to deliver.
Score: 8 / 10.