THE DEIGHTON DOSSIER

The online resource about writer Len Deighton

SS-GB TV series

In February and March 2017 the BBC broadcast on BBC1 TV a five-part adaptation of Len Deighton's counter-factual history epic, SS-GB, about a London under the Nazi jackboot.

It starred British actor Sam Riley as Detective Douglas Archer and Kate Bosworth and Barbara Braga, the two lead characters. In the story, a murder investigated by Archer leads him to discover a terrible truth at the heart of the Nazi-dominated government in the UK and uncover the truth about what happened to the King after the war ended.

The production was led by Sid Gentle Films, and the director was award-winning German director Phillip Kadelbach, making his first series in the UK. The script was by executive producers Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, who have previously written a number of the recent James Bond film scripts, and they produced a gripping, if rather slow-paced drama.

This early article in the Daily Mail, with some great pictures, explored the filming that took place in The Mall in London in Summer 2016 and showed a life-size Spitfire replica and Wehrmacht troops outside Buckingham Palace. This was the Spitfire that featured in the opening sequence of episode one.

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SERIES SUMMARY

[Note: spoilers]

SS-GB was broadly welcomed by critics as worthy of the coveted Sunday evening, BBC 1 drama slot. But, it was not universally well received and suffered from an inexplicable early social media mauling over 'mumbling' and poor sound quality, which seemed to have little basis in reality.

The show was somewhat slow paced and really only took off in the last three episodes, after much exposition. This, perhaps, explained some of the fall off in viewers from the initial 6 million prime time audience. However, the series was brilliantly acted - Sam Riley's Douglas Archer was definitely a 'Marmite' performance - and true to the film right until the very end. The end of the series showed how the plot to save the King was merely a trap to capture the Resistance fighters, whom Douglas Archer ended up supporting. He escapes from the Nazi with the atomic bomb plans hidden in a cigar tube, thereby becoming a wanted man.

One of the best characters in the series and book - Standartenfuhrer Huth - was executed in episode five. Overall, the cast was well-assembled and pretty true to the source characters in the book.

Purvis and Wade, in adapting the book, departed towards the end in a number of ways, clearly setting the BBC up for a second series of SS-GB (which will not be based on the book). For instance:

  • Resistance fighter Sylvia Manning actually survived the prison escape only to be shot subsequently alongside the King
  • Barbara Barga survives in the TV series having been terrorised and interrogated by Hans Kellerman; in the book, she is killed after the failed getaway
  • In the book, Douglas Archer is arrested and held at Bringle Sands; in the series, Kellerman lets him off the hook after blaming Huth for the whole complicated plot. The series ends with Archer seen running across country
These plot changes clearly have set the series up for a second run. However, the producers in doing so did depart from the book and perhaps lost something of the completeness of the self-contained story and its startling original denouement. But, this was a minor quibble in a successful adaptation.

Find out below more information about some of the main characters and the actors portraying them.

THE CAST

The Side Gentle Films TV series SS-GB brings together a stellar cast of British, American and German film and television actors.

Already the appointment of Sam Riley as Super-Intendant Douglas Archer of the Metropolitan Police - with his brooding stare, dark hard, gravelly voice and confident air - seems to have been an inspired choice. That Kate Bosworth, a Hollywood star, is in a BBC TV series illustrates the shift in funding from Hollywood to TV in the last decade, as streaming reduces the depth of the border between the two media magisteria.

Find out below more information about the main characters and the actors portraying them.

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    Douglas Archer
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    Barbara Barga
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    Standartenführer Huth
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    Harry Woods
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    Fritz Kellerman
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    Sylvia Manning

REACTION

SS-GB was broadcast on BBC1 from 19 February over five episodes

In the run-up to the series, the BBC's PR department pulled out all the stops to generate world-wide interest in the series, both through highlighting the stellar cast and reminding views of the original Deighton novel on which the story is based. This was a big budget push for the first viewing quarter of the year.

See below some of the marketing and PR coverage associated with the series.

SS-GB BBC Trailer

This trailer video from the BBC featured clips from all five episodes of SS-GB broadcast starting on Sunday 19 February 2017.


Press coverage

SS-GB and the "what if" angle around alternate histories seemed to capture the public's imagination, following the success of Amazon's The Man In The High Castle. Much was made of the casting of Sam Riley as Detective Douglas Archer as well as the visual stories generated through the pictures taken on set, in particular the image of a Spitfire on the Mall and a destroyed Buckingham Palace. The series got off to a rocky start somewhat after a rather petty, but persistent, social media campaign around alleged mumbling and poor sound quality.

Below is just a selection of the coverage that ensued around the series. Critics seemed to engage with the series, even if social media online critics were more divided.

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