Review: SS-GB (S1 E4/5), Sunday 12th March, BBC1

(C) Sid Gentle Films Ltd – Photographer: Screen Grab

SS-GB has been shedding viewers by the week and has been taking a pasting on Twitter (too mumbly, too whispery and too ‘what on earth is going on?’). I can kind of see why people haven’t warmed to this because it is slow and sludgy, and highly convoluted with a labyrinthine plot, all played out at a snail’s pace and in dark rooms with lots of men whispering. At least at the end of episode three there was at least an exterior piece of action – that of a Resistance bomb at Highgate Cemetery during an exhumation of Marx’s tomb. Now it was retribution and revenge on the Nazi’s part.

NB: Spoilers

In the aftermath of the Highgate bombing, we saw a slightly different side to Huth. So far, Lars Eidinger has been very watchable as almost a cartoon Nazi baddie, but here, in this episode, he revealed a… well, if not exactly softer side to Huth, more depth a nuance. The Highgate bombing had seen one of his friends – yes, he had friends – gargle blood during his last breaths, and the death of his friend had hit him hard. “What a mess,” he told Archer, uniform unbuttoned and drunk on a bottle of something designed only to be supped. He was rueful, in an instant revealing elements of a brutal childhood and then the effects of hard, bloody and ruthless war. Huth was showing a human side, but only up to a point – the SS had been the perfect mould into which he fitted, and war had turned this angry, bitter man into something sadistic and powerful. He liked winners, he hissed, it was weakness. Nazis are winners, don’t be tempted to work against them, he warned.

So Huth’s little moment gave the start to this episode something a bit different. And there was a sense in a slight increase and pace and action, as the Nazis introduced martial law to London in the wake of the partisans’ bombing at Highgate. It was brutal and swift – Archer saw two prisoners shot in the head in the street and then Harry and Sylvia both captured and interned, along with lots of others. Talk of thousands of prisoners being shifted to Wembley Stadium brought a shiver down the spine.

This left Archer no choice but to accept Mayhew’s offer of personally escorting the King out from the Tower and onto an airplane. Seeing what was happening around him had finally radicalised him, and he was explicit in his involvement in the Resistance. (This offer was given to him in the confines of the American embassy, with Barbara present. Is there no one who Mayhew is in league with?)

Archer had moved Mrs Sheenan and his son off into the unoccupied zone for safety as his mission approached, while Barbara – SS-GB flickers to life when Barbara and Archer are together on screen – was given the recently developed negatives for safe keeping so she could get them to America. She then spoke of a future with Archer, and hoped they might get married and live in the US after all the madness was over.

But, as ever, the race to develop an atomic bomb, warring factions within the Nazi occupying regime and lots of little plot strands confounding and confusing as the hour went by don’t do SS-GB any favours. I still contend that there’s something watchable and interesting underneath it all, but just when it threatens to get going the sheer weight of plot mires it once again. Indeed, a new plot strand saw Kellerman – that lush, presumed slightly stupid police chief – beginning to maneouvre himself into a position of power. Another layer to muddy the waters.

Only one more episode to go, though.

Paul Hirons

For all our reviews of SS-GB, go here


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