From JB to GB! Back in January, 2014, the JBIFC exclusively revealed that the James Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who came up with the central story theme for Skyfall and, more recently, also worked on Spectre, had been working on an adaptation of SS-GB, a thriller written by spy author Len Deighton.
Sources close to the project revealed to the JBIFC at the time that the adaptation would form the basis of a new 5-part series for television. Len Deighton’s best-selling wartime novel, first published in 1978, is an ‘alternate history’ story, set in a Great Britain that has been invaded and conquered by the Nazis.
The eagerly anticipated TV series, directed by Philipp Kadelbach, has now arrived. The Berlin Film Festival hosted the premiere a few days ago of the opening two episodes of the exciting new series, with the first episode given its British TV premiere on BBC-1 on Sunday, 19th February. Acclaimed British actor and BAFTA-nominee Sam Riley (who was mentioned in some quarters in the past as a possible Bond candidate) plays the central character, the widowed British detective Douglas Archer, while Kate Bosworth plays U.S. journalist Barbara Barga. Other key members of the cast include James Cosmo as Harry Woods, Aneurin Barnard as P.C. Jimmy Dunn, and Maeve Dermody as Sylvia Manning.
The Deighton File
As many James Bond and general spy fiction aficionados know, Len Deighton became one of the leading spy novelists of the early 1960s, with his first novel, The IPCRESS File, even earning praise from 007 author Ian Fleming. Three of Deighton’s spy novels were filmed for the big screen, produced by EON’s Harry Saltzman and starring Michael Caine as the anti-hero ‘Harry Palmer’. It is said that Caine ‘borrowed’ the name ‘Harry’ from the EON producer!
Later in his writing career, Deighton turned his attention to writing war stories, many of them rooted in the author’s careful historical research and impressive attention to military detail. Importantly, the storyline for SS-GB (1978) maintained Deighton’s interest in the impact of war, via a version of history that, of course, never happened. The gritty story, based largely in a rather grey and rain-soaked London in 1941, has Superintendent Douglas Archer, a Metropolitan Police detective at Scotland Yard, as the main character. Archer is trying to pursue a police career and solve crime against the difficult backdrop of an occupied Britain, where his bosses are constantly looking over his shoulder. The title ‘SS-GB’ stands for the special branch of the German S.S. that has overall control of the recently defeated country.
Archer is given the tricky task of investigating the murder of a well-dressed man, but what appears at first to be a simple murder case turns out to be much darker. Archer discovers the murdered man was actually a physicist named William Spode, who was working on a secret German project to develop a Nazi atomic bomb. It also emerges that Spode was connected to the British Resistance, and involved in a complex plot to free the English King from the Tower of London, after the Monarch was imprisoned there by the Germans.
Archer also becomes aware that the case is beginning to attract the unwelcome interest of key officials at the highest levels of the S.S. and German government, and he begins to witness a power struggle between rival factions in the regime, which inevitably puts his own life at risk.
As well as being a leading espionage author, Deighton (who lived as a teenager in wartime London and used some of his memories as a backdrop for the novel) has become a respected expert on the Second World War, and carries out meticulous background research on all of his military-related works of fiction and non-fiction. When writing his war books, such as Bomber (1970), Declarations of War (1971), Blitzkrieg (1979) and Goodbye Mickey Mouse (1982), Deighton took the opportunity to personally quiz some of the last surviving leaders of the German wartime regime, including Hitler’s architect and armaments Minister Albert Speer.
In a special interview Deighton gave to the BBC Listings magazine the Radio Times (18th-24th February, 2017), he described the long preparation he had to undertake for SS-GB, especially researching details on the Old Scotland Yard building and gaining access to Metropolitan Police archives.
The New 5-Part Series
The new adaptation of Deighton’s SS-GB by Purvis and Wade has been made into a 5-part thriller by Sid Gentle Films Ltd, and the Bond-writing duo have retained ‘Archer of the Yard’ as the central figure in the story. According to the producers, the series raises complex moral issues: what would you do if your country was occupied and you were faced with the choice of collaboration or joining a resistance movement?
Sam Riley, reflecting on his role as Archer, said: ‘Archer is a compelling and complex character. He is a good guy struggling to reconcile his job as a policeman within the repressive Nazi machine. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have written a gripping screenplay that pays homage to Len Deighton’s novel’.
The series is directed by award-winning German director Philipp Kadelbach, and – since production began in October, 2015 – key locations in the U.K. have included north London and (in January, 2016) the Mall just outside Buckingham Palace. Ironically, some of the key locations used in central London were very close to where Sam Mendes shot important scenes for Spectre.
The Purvis and Wade File
Starting with The World Is Not Enough in 1999, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have worked on the scripts for six 007 movies. In 2012, the pair announced that they were stepping down from Bond script-writing duties after the release of Skyfall, but were persuaded to come back and carry out some important re-drafting work on John Logan’s story for Spectre. The talented veteran screen-writing duo have been involved in a number of other new projects in recent times, including new big-screen adaptations of the 1960s sci-fi film Barbarella and the 1970s TV police series Kojak.
The busy pair have also worked on a gangster movie script entitled Corsica ’72, based on the true story of two Corsican childhood friends, Marco and Sauveur. The former joins the Mafia, while the latter chooses a quiet life with his lover. But when the Mob kills Sauver’s brother, he is set on a path which inevitably brings him up against his old friend.
Last year, Purvis and Wade joined other members of the Spectre production team at the 2016 Jameson Empire Awards held in central London, when the latest Bond adventure picked up two major awards, one for ‘Best Thriller’ and one for ‘Best British Film’. More recently, in January, 2017, the pair were interviewed by the UK’s Telegraph newspaper to help publicise SS-GB, and (perhaps inevitably) were quizzed about their thoughts on the next James Bond movie.
They pointed out that finding a fresh story will be a big challenge for whoever writes the screenplay, as the real world seems to have become stranger than fiction in recent months. As Purvis put it, ‘The thing is, I’m just not sure how you would go about writing a James Bond film now’. Would they ever come back, asked the Telegraph? ‘Never say never’, responded Wade. ‘But for sure, Spectre felt like it closed off a certain way of doing Bond. And I think whatever happens next will be quite different’.
Did You Know?
Len Deighton became involved himself in James Bond scriptwriting duties in the mid-1970s, when he worked on the script of James Bond of the Secret Service (later titled Warhead), with Sean Connery and Irish producer Kevin McClory, as part of McClory’s ambitious and controversial plans to produce an independent non-EON Bond movie.
At one point, Deighton, who penned the script at his own home in Ireland, suggested to McClory that the story be entitled Hammerhead, as Deighton had come up with the idea of mechanical sharks equipped with radar, a key feature of the screenplay. Deighton was quite proud of the script. However, much of it never made it into what eventually became Never Say Never Again.
More recently, Deighton has written a short e-book about his memories of both Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory, entitled James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search for His Father (2012). Deighton actually met and had lunch with the James Bond creator in March, 1963, after Fleming had chosen The IPCRESS File as his ‘Book of the Year’ in 1962.