SS-GB is the five part Len Deighton alternate history adaptation soon on BBC-1. Here Maeve Dermody, who plays Sylvia, tells all about the series.
Please outline your character for us.
Sylvia is quite mysterious. She is working in the office alongside Archer. They’re in a romantic relationship, but she won’t commit to it or play along at Scotland Yard. But quite quickly, it’s clear why, as her other life emerges. It’s evident that she would rather put her life at risk and fight the Nazis. She works in a cell infiltrating the Nazis. The idea was based on the French Resistance.
What do you think is driving her?
Sylvia’s motivation is deliberately hazy. She works in the moment. She’s fiery, impulsive and confused. She improvises a lot of the time. The 1940s was full of ingenuity. It was a time of great invention. In the end she is given a task that matches her will and motivation. I loved playing her.
Is her journey mapped out in a straight line?
No. But I like the fact that she doesn’t have a really clear arc. That reflects the reality, which is that in a country under invasion you wake up every day and you don’t know what is going to happen.
Why did you find this project so compelling?
I just couldn’t fault it. Alternate history is endlessly fascinating as a trope. We are all gripped by the idea of “why not?”
In the Second World War, we were on the precipice of one of two things happening. It could have gone either way. It’s completely plausible that Britain could have lost the war. It’s a matter of great luck and timing that it didn’t. Making this drama causes you to think that we could have been in the completely different reality and be very grateful that we are not.
How do you think you would have reacted if the Nazis had taken over Britain?
If I was in that situation, I hope I would have fought against it, as we all do. We all hope we would have the courage to fight back and take risks, as Sylvia does.
Why has Len Deighton’s novel lasted so well?
Because it is such a well-researched book. SS-GB has endured so well because it’s utterly plausible. This really could have happened. He’s completely engaged with that moment in history.
The look of the series is stunning, isn’t it?
Absolutely. The script is really strong, but the art direction and the costumes are also brilliant. The people working on SS-GB are so talented. It shows once again that UK drama is top, top quality.
What did you think of the period costumes?
They’re amazing. They really help you get into character. I worked with the costume designer sourcing original materials. Anything that has a dramatic link to that moment in time is so helpful.
What did working with a German director add to the drama?
It was one of the strongest points of the production. Philipp brought a German sensibility to the drama. There’s a difference in his aesthetic and how he deals with actors. That was really interesting. Also, unusually for a British TV drama, we had some great German actors. Walking around the set hearing the German language pushes it a bit further. It helps you to think: “Yes, this is really happening.”