Sam Ri­ley tack­les vi­o­lent crime — and the SS — in Nazi-held Lon­don


A RED FLAG em­bla­zoned with a gi­ant swastika hangs from the ceil­ing at Cen­tral Saint Martins art school in Lon­don. Be­neath it, two SS men slouch against a wall; ri­fles in one hand, iphones in the other. Dressed in a navy over­coat and trilby, Sam Ri­ley leans out of a win­dow and lights a cig­a­rette. Em­pire is on the set of SS-GB, Robert Wade and Neal Purvis’ take on Len Deighton’s 1978 thriller. It’s set in an al­ter­na­tive 1941 where Ger­many has won World War II, the Nazis con­trol Lon­don and Scot­land Yard is run by the SS. Still, “no smok­ing” signs must be obeyed.

The five-part BBC One se­ries pitches Ri­ley into this murky world as homi­cide cop Dou­glas Archer, who faces a bleak moral dilemma: col­lude with the en­emy or join an un­sta­ble re­sis­tance. “He’s am­bigu­ous,” says Ri­ley. “He’s not a Nazi, but he thinks there has to be law and or­der... His neigh­bours see him driven to work by the Gestapo and don’t know if they can trust him.”

The adap­ta­tion sees Bond screen­writ­ing pair Wade and Purvis work­ing on the small screen for the first time. “We had more free­dom than with the Bond films, which are so heav­ily de­con­structed,” ex­plains Purvis. “It’s great fun hav­ing a large can­vas to tell a story with twists, turns and sub­tle plot [shifts].” And if SS-GB seems to be fol­low­ing in the jack­booted steps of Ama­zon’s The Man In The

High Cas­tle, the writ­ers dis­agree. “We see that as sci­ence-fic­tion,” stresses Wade, “whereas we’re ex­plor­ing the con­se­quences of what liv­ing through the oc­cu­pa­tion could re­ally have been like.”

The se­ries will be long on his­tor­i­cal verisimil­i­tude and short on heel-click­ing clichés. “We have Ger­mans play­ing cru­cial roles, in­stead of English ac­tors putting on dodgy ac­cents,” says Ri­ley. For the ac­tor, a “film noir with Nazis” was too good to turn down. “As my dad put it, peo­ple might ac­tu­ally watch some­thing I’m in now,” he laughs. “Plus, I’ve al­ways wanted to play a de­tec­tive and my ego saw I was in ev­ery scene. I’m hop­ing it will up my odds for play­ing Bond, too.” Well, now he has Purvis and Wade to put in a good word.

Clock­wise from

above: Sam Ri­ley as De­tec­tive Su­per­in­ten­dent Dou­glas Archer; Di­rec­tor Philipp Kadel­bach (right) on set; Kate Bos­worth plays Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Bar­bara Barga; Archer with his boss, Fritz Keller­mann (Rainer Bock), head of the po­lice force in Great Bri­tain.

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