Three weeks in, this adaptation of Len Deighton’s alternative historical thriller is sticking to its guns in gloomy fashion.
Sandpaper-voiced London policeman Archer continues to be drawn into Nazi-run Britain in all its complexity. There was, at least, more happening, even if it’s still hard to tell who’s doing what and why. Personal tensions continued to flare between certain characters. Archer went to see a connection to his ongoing shadowy murder case, leading to a nervy interrogation scene which may prove pivotal. Meanwhile, the plot to free the King from the Tower of London had a new twist. The mass-congregation centrepiece of the episode, a lavish public ceremony, was built stylishly around a flashback. So in terms of actual story, there was plenty going on for your average episode of SS-GB.
The storyline is no longer the problem, though. The characters, whilst they have the potential to be intriguing, are not fleshed out. Archer, who you feel must have some baggage in his past, has had very little of it explained, leaving him as just another embattled, gruff London cop. Woods, whose status as Archer’s former mentor has barely been touched upon, is much the same brand of cynic, only slightly older, and Scottish.
Archer’s secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) also remains a mystery, and therein lies the issue. Too little time is spent on her to figure out whether or not she matters. The stern yet witty SS Officer Oskar Huth, meanwhile, was one of the best things about the early episodes, but has barely featured since. It is too much of Archer’s party, and Archer doesn’t give much away.
Even in the scant scenes where there is the potential for real connection, SS-GB cleaves to its source too closely. Imitating Deighton’s style is this adaptation’s undoing. Whilst the book is good on research and creating an atmosphere, it is relatively low on emotional impact. The scenes with people feeling things fall flat compared to the ones where they do things. Similarly, the series is well-made, and you see its point about war – you just don’t feel much about its characters.
As ever, the actors do well, but no more than that. Still, the pace of the story is picking up, and there is enough here to make me interested in what goes on next week – if only to see how they handle certain aspects of the book. SS-GB has a lot to get through in its two remaining episodes, which should make them thrilling on a narrative level. Archer, Woods, Huth and co are bound to get into some manner of trouble. But this adaptation is running out of time to make us care.
SS-GB continues on Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.