SS-GB, episode 5, review: alt-history thriller deserves a follow-up series

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Sam Riley as Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer
Sam Riley as Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer Credit: BBC

In an alternative world, there would be a follow-up series for SS-GB (BBC One). In the style of a moreish American multi-parter, it concluded with way more questions than answers. You needed to be a four-headed hydra to keep an eye on a plot which swivelled this way and that as factions within both the resistance and the occupiers entered the deadly endgame.

By the close, Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer (Sam Riley) stumbled across moorland, in possession of vital atomic secrets and a map. Barbara Barga (Kate Bosworth), not knowing if Archer was dead or alive, vamoosed before she could be flown home. And old Harry (James Cosmo) was recovering in a barn from a bullet to his lower portions.

Kate Bosworth as Barbara Barga Credit: BBC

Alas, Len Deighton didn’t write a sequel to his 1978 what-if thriller, and we are where we are, with the Nazis still in command of the UK but contemplating their eventual untergang in the shape of a weaponised, bellicose America. For all the bows left untied, this felt like a plausible outro which withheld the glib offer of catharsis. No film noir with any self-respect does happy ever afters.

Riley rose to the role of reluctant action hero communicating in nods and whispers. At one point, he even consented to raise his voice to bawl out a well-fed collaborator. But the bigger journey – and the real star turn – belonged to Lars Eidinger’s SS doctor Huth, who faced the firing squad almost heroically. He dismissed his deadly rival Kellermann (Rainer Bock), finally revealed to be far the greater sadist, as “a giant turd”. A sentiment we can all get behind, I’m sure.

Maeve Dermody as Sylvia Manning Credit: BBC

The script by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade slotted together the plot’s intricate jigsaw with a little too much reliance on reported events taking place somewhere off screen. We could have seen more of Jason Flemyng’s shady string-puller Mayhew. Perhaps the whole thing needed another hour.

What underpinned SS-GB was the lashings of atmosphere. Trilbies aloft for composer Dan Jones and production designer Lisa Marie Hall, who imagined England under occupation with commitment to marrow-chilling realism.

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