This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This review contains spoilers.
When SS-GB launched a fortnight ago, there was talk about its inadvertent modern-day relevance. With right-wing nationalism once again appearing to be taking hold in western politics, the story of an England occupied by Nazis felt dangerously applicable. The feeling was that intentionally or not, a drama about a past that never was might tell us something about where we are now.
Three fifths of the way through, it’s clear there’s no modern insight to be had here. SS-GB isn’t a complex investigation of political themes; it’s an old-fashioned spy romp down to the last hidden film reel, bombshell blonde and cyanide-laced cigarette. It’s unable to tell us anything about today’s world, or the 1970s world in which Deighton originally wrote it, because it exists in a bubble, less drama than antiques shop. Its makers have faithfully reconstructed the espionage noirs of old, without the addition of any revised attitudes or fresh takes.
They’ve even left in dialogue so generically familiar it continually verges on parody. When Douglas was fondly reminiscing to Mrs Sheenan about ‘Snake Hips’ Johnson playing the Blues, I had to check I wasn’t watching a sketch from The Fast Show. The same goes for any of Archer’s pillow talk with Barbara, which clangs like a washing machine dropped down a flight of stairs. “You seem to be more interested in false bottoms than real ones,” she oozed. And you seem to be unembarrassed to say this stuff.
Archer’s lines all carry the same ponderous weight it feels as though everything he utters might be a password for an underground connection. When he picked up that public telephone and spoke the words “I’m expecting something important in the second post”, it felt like a signal for him to drop through the floor Get Smart-style. The same goes for “I haven’t tasted a French cigarette in years” – surely that was the cue for a pack of secret service agents to abseil into the interrogation room and extract him?
There’s a reason for the stiffness and cliché—this isn’t just a 1940s-set pulp drama, it’s an homage to 1940s pulp drama, a museum exhibition created in its honour. Fans of the same can relax and enjoy the next two episodes, safe in the knowledge they’ll play out with no surprises.
Douglas Archer isn’t the sort of period character able to transcend decades and become a hero for all ages; he’s rigidly of his time. The slick clothes, the cool demeanour, the serial seductions and dress-up doll women (one mumsy, one feisty and one glamorous)… even that underground tunnel umbrella stick fight scene. Archer’s a pulp noir cliché and as such, feels incapable of surprise.
As was episode three, which played out with all the predictability of a fully wound clock. Of course Highgate was going to explode after we were shown Sylvia scurrying away from a gaggle of the Third Reich’s finest. Of course there was a secret film hidden inside the prosthetic elbow joint Archer had been carrying around since episode one. And of course the German officer who was so jumpy about Archer apprehending Spode was giving the prisoner a poisoned cigarette.
I’d have steered clear of that sandwich to boot.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.