TV blog: SS-GB

Benjie Goodhart / 16 February 2017

A new Sunday-night drama set in a world where the Germans won World War 2. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

SS-GB, Sunday 19th February, 9pm, BBC One

The idea of setting a drama in a world where the Germans won World War II is not a new one. Robert Harris’s Fatherland is memorably set in 1964, in the build up to Hitler’s 75th birthday. Amazon’s lavish new drama, The Man in the High Castle, is set in 1962 in an America split between German and Japanese occupation. (Fortunately, the idea of the US being ruled by an extreme right wing faction could never come to pass.)

This latest addition to the genre (admittedly based on the 1978 novel by Len Deighton) looks, on the basis of this first episode, to be an absolute cracker. It’s November, 1941, 14 months after Germany won the Battle of Britain. The drama wastes little time in emphasising Britain’s humiliation – the opening scene features a bombed-out Buckingham Palace bedecked with Swastikas. Later on, the Houses of Parliament are shown with similar adornments. They are sobering reminders of what might have been.

The action centres around a rather suave police Superintendent, Douglas Archer, who wears a trilby and mackintosh like he was born to it. He’s called to investigate what appears to be a routine murder of an antiques dealer in Shepherd’s Market. If it ends up being routine, I’m Neville Chamberlain.

His investigations bring him into contact with a classic femme fatale, in the form of New York Times reporter Barbara Barga (Kate Bosworth). She mentions she’s staying at The Dorchester, which is exciting for me for personal reasons. She might bump in to my grandma there. Yep, my grandma did her bit for the war effort by moving into The Dorchester for the duration.

Meanwhile, a high-ranking SS Officer is dispatched from Germany to investigate the murder, which it appears is not so routine after all (I claim my £2 and an extra ration of eggs). The senior SS Officer turns out to be a lovely chap. Provided you like ice-cold Nazi’s in leather trench coats barking orders and sneering at everyone.

This is absolutely top-notch drama. The period detail is meticulously observed, and the feeling of oppressive suspicion and grim subjugation is richly realised. This five-part series looks to have the makings of a real hit.

The Trouble with Dad, Monday 20th February, 9pm, Channel 4

Losing a parent to dementia is a series of everyday agonies, as the person you loved and looked up to for a lifetime slips away by increments. Sadly, I know whereof I speak. David Baddiel’s searingly honest documentary, as he confronts his father Colin’s dreadful decline at the hands of Pick’s Disease (an aggressive form of dementia) will resonate with many. The trepidation before you walk in the door – how will they be today?  The despairing search for signs of the ‘old’ dad. And, yes, the occasional (or not so occasional) moments of hilarity after a particularly wonderful phrase or non-sequitur.

It can seem cruel, to find humour in these situations, but it is a lifeline. Not surprisingly, comedian Baddiel is adept at finding the funny side of life, and he has turned his father’s traumatic decline into a stand-up show, moments of which are intercut throughout this film. But if certain aspects of dementia can be amusing, the reality of the disease is anything but, and this is a documentary shot-through with melancholy.

Baddiel visits other families suffering in similar circumstances. There is Ken, who seems a delightful and cheery chap, who greets his visitors with a song and some Bruce Forsythe catchphrases. But it quickly becomes apparent that life isn’t all a song and a joke. Later, he meets a woman who has been reduced to a mute and unreachable existence by Pick’s Disease.

But the film is at its saddest when dealing with Colin Baddiel’s relationship with his sons. While his condition has made him abusive and hostile towards them (and be warned, this film is a festival of bad language that would make Tarantino blush), it seems that this is just a slightly exaggerated manifestation of what went before. “We never had a Hollywood relationship,” David says at the film’s outset. Later, he comments “On some level, we are still scared of him.”

And then there’s the killer line. Baddiel is asked whether his father was the type of dad who ever told them he loved them. “No. Never.” Why? You expect, here, the platitudes and truisms about being buttoned up, unable to show emotion. But that’s not the response. “I think, mainly, because he didn’t.”

The best… and the rest

Sunday 19th February

Being AP, 10pm, BBC Two: Marvellous feature-length film following the unparalleled Tony McCoy in 2014 as he pursues his 20th consecutive Champion Jockey crown. A study in single-minded passion, this is not just for racing fans.

Monday 20th February

Match of the Day Live: The FA Cup, 7:30pm, BBC One: Non-league Sutton United, who have already knocked out two high-flying Championship teams, play 12-time FA Cup winners Arsenal at the tiny Borough Sports Ground.

The Trouble with Dad, 10pm, Channel 4: Wry and hugely enjoyable film by comedian Jon Richardson, in which he confronts his neuroses about death, and looks at which ones really are worth worrying about.

Tuesday 21st February

UK’s Best Place to Live, 8pm, Channel 4: These programmes seem to come along every couple of months, and always end up naming somewhere different. You’d have to move house six times a year to stay on top of things. Sarah Beeny presents this one.

The Drug Trial: Emergency at the Hospital, 9pm, BBC Two: In March 2006, eight young men gathered together to undergo a trial for an experimental drug, TGN1412. Suffice to say, it didn’t go all that well.

Staying Healthy: A Doctor’s Guide, 10pm, Channel 4: Dr Pixie McKenna looks at what made people ill in 2016, in the hope that this might help us stay well for the year ahead.

Wednesday 22nd February

The Brit Awards 2017, 7:30pm, ITV: Annual pop shindig, almost certainly destined to feature Robbie Williams on our screens. Again.

The Royal House of Windsor 1/6, 9pm, Channel 4: So, apparently the Netflix series The Crown is actually based on a true story, about a little known family called the Windsors. Who knew?

Incredible Medicine: Dr Weston’s Casebook 1/6: Surgeon Gabriel Weston explores the inner workings of the human body.

Thursday 23rd February

Celebrity Sex Pod 1/3, 10pm, Channel 5: Well done, Channel 5. Well done.

Shop Well For Less 1/6, 8pm, BBC One: Change how you shop without changing your lifestyle.

Has Political Correctness Gone Mad, 9pm, Channel 4: Trevor Phillips asks whether liberalism and fear of causing offence are actually stifling legitimate debate in 21st Century Britain.

Friday 24th February

Schofield’s South African Adventure 1/3, 8pm, ITV: Thrilling footage of diving with one of the world’s most dangerous predators.

The Secrets of Your Food 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: Oh for heaven’s sakes. There are no secrets in any food anywhere anymore. We’ve been told all about them in every other TV programme for the last five years. Enough already.

Gogglebox, 9pm, Channel 4: The award-winning show returns for its ninth series. Watching other people watch telly is way more fun than it sounds.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.