James Bond writers Purvis and Wade’s alternate history SS-GB, based on the 1978 novel by thriller writer Len Deighton (The Ipcress File) is somewhat timely, what with the emboldening of the right in the wake of Brexit and Trump. Set in November 1941, the BBC 5 part series reimagines a successful resolution to the Battle Of Britain for the Nazis and a successful occupation of mainland England. You could call it an alt-Reich.
Sam Riley plays the central character, Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer, “Archer of the Yard”, already a brilliant detective in the public eye, and now forced to work alongside the occupying German military/police system. He does so because he can’t simply resign – he’ll probably be shot for refusing to co-operate, so justifies the terms of his cooperation by reasoning basic law and order must be maintained. A simple murder however soon leads to the summoning of Himmler’s man, the menacing, intelligent Standartenfuhrer Dr Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), a plot involving the Resistance, various power players in the British upper classes, and research that could change the fortunes of the war that some seem determined to continue…
The opening titles for the show were created by Framestore, the London-based BAFTA and OSCAR winning VFX company. Opening with a sepia look at the Battle Of Britain gradually turning against the gallant British forces (a nice touch is a stuttering effect, mimicking the camera guns attached to planes that were timed to the firing mechanism, allowing for post-battle analysis) we follow a Spitfire tumble to the coast below, blossoming into a blood red stain that seems to spread beneath barbed wire like a Nazi contagion in a petri dish, enveloping the land. Then the Luftwaffe swarm over iconic landmarks, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, unmolested .
Leading characters in abstract silhouette form then are featured against occupation images – barricades, posters, etc (the actors were filmed against greenscreen). American journalist Barabara Barga (Kate Bosworth) is featured in front of a spool of film, suggesting her profession and part of the ongoing mystery. Each character’s introduction suggests the shadowy allegiances and game of bluff and counter-bluff at play. Towards the end, the faintest glimpse of Huth’s Nazi, runic – like documents relating to heavy water reactor research can be glimpsed, and the blueprint for a replacement limb, another key factor in the plot. Finally, the camera zeroes in on Riley himself, ace of spies in this mystery.