Why Vigil should be your next box set
Ivan Radford | On 08, Oct 2021
“How are you with enclosed spaces?” That’s the question asked of DCI Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) when she’s hastily recruited and sent aboard HMS Vigil. A Trident submarine, it’s more than just a closed-off space: it’s a compressed echo chamber that’s home to nuclear warheads, unspoken tensions and a dead body.
Is the death of one of its crew an accidental overdose or is there something more at play? The six-part thriller dives right in from the off, laying the seabed of suspicion thick on top of layers of intriguing conspiracy – before Amy’s even underwater, she’s encountered anti-Trident protestors, and before she’s seen the body, she’s been warned about what she can and (crucially) can’t do. Stories set on submarines are nothing new for the screen, and that’s because they have an inherent suspense to them, not only in the confined proximity of the people on board but in the stakes of keeping things functioning – the overall pressure of needing to follow procedures without fail. An outsider investigating a murder, then, is an ideal recipe for riveting telly, as she has little choice but to go against orders to find out what she can behind the stoic wall of no comments.
The tensions of a newcomer having to step into a role at the last-minute is at the very heart of the series’ success, and Suranne Jones is impeccable at the nerves-of-steel investigator, who can confidently laugh off a misspelling of her name but finds herself on shaky ground once she’s all at sea. She’s perfectly cast in a role that requires her to balance distress that might render her incompetent with a determined streak that powers her through – in another person’s hands that lurching between the two extremes would be laughably ridiculous and, not unlike Bodyguard or Line of Duty, Vigil depends upon the ability to stay just the right side of silly.
This is, after all, a show in which someone gets locked in a torpedo tube, another person is stabbed and someone else may or may not have been poisoned. But the cast ground things with a seriousness that elevates every potentially daft twist, keeping us occupied with threats and secrets aplenty. Martin Compston’s duty-driven mess officer sets the tone early on, and he’s joined by Shaun Evans’ seemingly honourable liason, Sex Education’s Connor Swindells as a heated but loyal engineer, Adam James as senior player Mark Prentice, who sits somewhere between dodgy motivations and a good heart, and Anjli Mohindra as the helpful medical officer Tiffany Docherty. Stealing the show and steering the ship? The always-excellent Paterson Joseph, who brings intimidation and a sense of duty that brings wider stakes to the whodunnit. “We have always been at war,” he warns Amy with an unblinking stare and, while he’s made questionable decisions in the past, there’s no doubting his immediate imperative to keep everyone on his watch alive and safe.
Back on land, Stephen Dillane gruffly introduces the bigger picture as Rear Admiral Shaw, who’s at loggerheads with Rose Leslie’s DS Kirsten Longacre. Leslie emerges as the real MVP of the talented ensemble, building on her work in Game of Thrones and The Good Fight to bring real emotional depths to her trustworthy colleague – who is still navigating the emotional water of a relationship with Amy. She’s also key to the narrative structure, as the six episodes jump on and off land with a well-oiled efficiency, untangling a conspiracy while keeping us clued in on what each revelation means for the country, for the submarine and for Amy and Kirsten. Underpinning it all is the dark understanding that the best case scenario is keeping the UK’s nuclear stand-off continuing for years to come. The result is a pressurised pulp thriller that makes for a grippingly claustrophobic watch. Dive in and don’t expect to come up for air for six hours.