So what would have happened if Hitler had won the Second World War and successfully invaded Britain? The question has been posed by many writers over the years, and the latest televised answer to it lies in the BBC’s dramatisation of Len Deighton’s novel, SS-GB.So now we know, given that the fantastic production qualities of such adaptations give us as accurate an impression of life back as we could hope for. The Brits would have been sullen: defeated, yet defiant; and the Resistance would have been strong, as the drama describes. Life would have been pretty grim all round.
But there is an additional element, one that the BBC has brought vividly to life. Everyone would have mumbled. It must be true: because mumbling is about all you can hear currently on a Sunday evening.
Seriously, this is yet another of those TV dramatisations of which half the population can’t hear a word. I didn’t know whether or not it was an age thing, until I read a newspaper review of the first episode. It seems there is an ageist aspect to this sad tale.
When, a few years back, the BBC adapted Daphne du Maurier’s classic Jamaica Inn, there was widespread complaint about the inaudibility of the dialogue. At the time the Beeb defended itself, though it appeared to accept some of the criticism and issued muted (ha ha!) apologies.
This time round it seems no one cares. I’m given to understand that I should expect that kind of soundscape in a modern TV drama. Those conspiratorial conversations must, we assured, be muttered in that manner, with plenty of sound effects and/or background music in support. The fact that the population over, say, 50 can barely hear a word is of no significance. Younger ears can cope, and the newspaper reviewer suggested that old gits like me should buy one of those sound bars to stick on the front of my set. Or use subtitles.
We Traffords had been looking out for this show ever since, back in January 2016, we witnessed a crew filming the very first scene in the Mall, with Buckingham Palace as backdrop. There we saw the Russian fighter ace dismounting from the Spitfire (Russian? Confusing, I know: it was all about some dodgy pact between Stalin and Hitler). Sadly, we missed him being shot moments later by a member of the Resistance.
When we were there, Buck House looked resplendent, the Victoria Memorial gleaming gold in some pale winter sunlight. On screen, of course, the Palace was transformed into the semi-bombed, shabby wreck that it would indeed have been in a defeated London in 1946.
I liked the first episode, and confess I am finding it easier to follow than I ever did Jamaica Inn. The latter was so dark that we couldn’t see what was happening either. The technical wizards who make these shows must be fantastically proud of their ability to film in almost total darkness. Trouble is, dark is dark, and really convincing darkness tends to make things, well, invisible.
SS-GB is gloomy, as it should be. But the mumbling? It’s irritating, if I’m honest.
Still, this production has answered one thing, the “what if?” question tackled by vintage thriller writer Len Deighton and so many other authors.
Britain would have been full of mumbling. Not even mumbling, though, but German muttering, which is Gemurmel.
“For you, Tommy, the war is over. There’s nothing left for you, but Gemurmel.”
The rest is silence. Well, not silence: more like… mumbling. Gemurmel.