The television adaption of Len Deighton’s book is a mixed success, but it is watchable for the dieselpunk setting alone.


The BBC’s television adaption of Len Deighton’s SS-GB (1978) sees Britain under German occupation. Operation Sea Lion has been a success. Winston Churchill is dead. An ailing King George is held prisoner by the Nazis. His wife and daughters have escaped to New Zealand. Neither the Soviets nor the United States have entered the war. A British government-in-exile is struggling to win diplomatic recognition.

The plot focuses on a Scotland Yard detective, Douglas Archer (Sam Riley), who is caught up in a rivalry between his two SS supervisors as well as a British Resistance plot to exploit competition between the Germany Army and the SS. (The title refers to the branch of the Nazi SS that controls Great Britain.)

The series gets off to a slow start. I’m not sure I would have been eager to watch Episode 2 if it wasn’t for the dieselpunk setting, but the story picks up steam after the pilot. Episodes 2 through 4 are well done. Episode 5, the finale, is a bit of a letdown, and I can’t say all the characters’ actions make perfect sense, but on balance the show is perfectly watchable.

Here are some pictures of London under Nazi rule. The reason for the Karl Marx banner is that the Nazis have agreed to exhume the philosopher’s body for reburial in Moscow.


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The novel itself is very low-key and slow moving. The series actually has a faster pace than it. This is the difference between a book published in the 1970s and one that would come out now, for which customers demand breathless, flat out action, even for alternate history books. The book emphasises the dreariness of the setting which the series captured well. The series does not follow the book strictly which I feel is one reason why some of the actions of characters do not seem logical. In the book, trying to get the King away has a larger part.

Yes, it is set before Germany has gone to war with the USSR and the two countries are still bound by the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939.

It is wrong for the story to envisage that the Royal Family would have fled to New Zealand. Hatley Castle on Vancouver Island in Canada was bought for them to retreat to if there had been a German invasion of Britain in 1940.

Yes, there was a worked-out plan for getting the Royal Family away across Britain and then to Canada, that most alternate history novels tap into.

Interestingly in ‘When William Came’ by Hector Hugh Munro (1913) the British King evacuates to India rather than Canada, when the Germans invade Britain during the envisaged First World War.

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