A CHILLING THRILLER
The Germans won the war and Britain is under occupation. That’s the idea behind new TV drama SS-GB – and its dystopian vision is utterly chilling
Sam Riley on why the BBC’s intriguing murder mystery SS-GB – set in a Britain under
Nazi occupation – will give you goose bumps
was Jewish, and it was really emotional for both of us, so frightening. And when you see it in the context of a British civilian it really makes you think about things.’
The story is told entirely from the point of view of Archer. Sam, best known for his films Control – playing Joy Division singer Ian Curtis – and Maleficent with Angelina Jolie, dominates almost every scene. Although off-screen the Yorkshire-born actor is surprisingly awkward, on-screen he’s mesmerising. Ironically, Sam now lives in Berlin with his German actress wife Alexandra Maria Lara and their three-year-old son, and says he lobbied hard for the role when he heard it was being directed by acclaimed German director Philipp Kadelbach.
Kate jokes they nicknamed the director ‘The Horny Hun’ because of the sex scenes. But Sam insists he refused to prepare for topless scenes. ‘My ambi- tion was not to have a six-pack,’ he smiles. ‘Which I achieved. But I did get to wear a very nice suit and trilby.’
SS-GB will inevitably be compared to Amazon’s hit show The Man In The High Castle, which is set in a 1960s America that’s under joint German and Japanese occupation, but it’s grittier and closer to what could actually have happened. The recent popularity of dramas set during the war – ITV’s The Halcyon is another – comes at a time when fascism and racism are on the rise across Europe. ‘It’s very easy for those ideas to come around again,’ says Sam. ‘Once you start blaming a type of person for your problems, it can quickly slide into something very frightening.’
The fear of living in a fascist country – where one misplaced word or stupid action can result in instant death – is palpable from the start. Part of that was achieved by using documentarystyle hand-held cameras which make you feel like you’re part of the action. In one scene Archer’s secretary and lover Sylvia mucks about on a hotel balcony wrapped only in a Nazi flag
after a night of passion. Then the phone in the hotel room goes and the terror of who it might be, what it might mean, crosses both their faces.
The British Resistance are almost as terrifying as the Nazis. ‘Many of them are fundamentalists who’ll do anything to bring America into the war,’ says Sam. ‘It’s fascinating.’ He admits it made him wonder how brave he’d be if he’d been placed in that situation. ‘Archer speaks fluent German after studying it at Oxford, and the Germans use him as a totem. People are suspicious and even his own son asks if he’s working for the Gestapo. Meanwhile the Resistance are trying to threaten him into joining them. Archer’s a widower with a young son and as a parent you’re so much more vulnerable. That’s how it started in Germany; they terrified people. It was hard to stand up to them, especially if you have a lot to lose. I’d like to think I’d stand up to it, but who can say for sure?’
SS- GB will start on BBC1 later this month.
Sam Riley as detective Douglas Archer and (far left) Kate Bosworth as US journalist Barbara Barga