sun 19/09/2021

Vigil, BBC One review - murder most watery | reviews, news & interviews

Vigil, BBC One review - murder most watery

Vigil, BBC One review - murder most watery

What does the Navy have to hide at its Trident submarine base?

Navy larks: Rose Leslie and Suranne Jones

Submarines have delivered some memorable on-screen performances, from Run Silent, Run Deep to The Hunt for Red October. On the other hand, we must not overlook the treasurably idiotic BBC series The Deep, which featured a submarine with a “moon pool” in it (this was a big vent permanently open to the ocean).

Handy for reaching the sea-bed in a hurry perhaps, but not helpful for getting back up again.

Vigil isn’t quite as absurd as that, and in fact takes itself extremely seriously, even though the underwater shots look distinctly creaky. It's made by World Productions, home of Line of Duty and Bodyguard, and written by Tom Edge, who also authored the Judy Garland film Judy as well as telly-isations of J K Rowling’s Strike novels. It centres around HMS Vigil, one of the Royal Navy’s Trident-armed nuclear submarines, which automatically introduces a degree of moral ambiguity into the mix. Judging from remarks made by various characters, it seems Vigil is a problematic vessel (Stephen Dillane’s Admiral Shaw announces angrily that there will be serious changes on board when it gets back to port), and it sailed headlong into a sea of troubles in this opening episode.

It looked at first as if Vigil was responsible for snagging the nets of a Scottish trawler and dragging it fatally under water, but the situation proved to be more complex. Vigil didn’t do it, but another submarine did. Probably a Russian one. What was alarming to Captain Newsome (Paterson Joseph, pictured above with Adam James) was that Vigil’s surveillance systems hadn’t spotted it. Since Vigil is supposed to be Britain’s invisible nuclear deterrent, if an undetectable enemy can shadow it, that deterrent is lost. Though if this sub was clever enough to avoid detection by Vigil, you'd think it might be able to avoid a mere trawler.

All that was pushed to one side by the sudden death of crewman Craig Burke (Martin Compston, abandoning DI Steve Arnott’s south London accent in favour of his native Scottish tones), seemingly from a heroin overdose. His death occurred while Vigil was in British territorial waters, which apparently meant that Police Scotland had to be called in (though only after a battle of wills with the MoD). However, since Vigil was on active duty the Navy refused to recall it to base, and instead agreed to have a detective helicoptered out to meet the boat somewhere in the Atlantic.

Step up, DCI Amy Silva (Suranne Jones), who was soon aboard a rescue chopper clattering out from Dunloch naval base over the ocean. Frankly she seemed a bizarre choice for the task of spending three days aboard a submarine. She’s afraid of heights, as illustrated by her terror at being winched down to the boat, she has a phobia of enclosed spaces, and she’s on medication for anxiety and depression, following a horrific experience of bereavement and near-death by drowning. She should be on indefinite furlough, rather than a solitary female detective being dropped into a secretive, almost-all-male military environment like this.

Anyhow, wouldn’t you know it, but Amy’s investigations soon began to indicate that Burke had been murdered. Her couple of years of an unfinished medical training easily enabled her to outsmart the ship’s doctor, while the evasiveness and hostility of Vigil’s crew spelt GUILTY! in flashing neon letters. Especially the aggressive and supercilious Executive Officer Prentice, played by Adam James at his most obnoxious.

Back on shore, Amy was getting some help from her colleague DI Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie), who tracked down a link between the deceased Burke and anti-nuke protester Jade (Lauren Lyle), one of the wackily-dressed occupants of the Dunloch Peace Camp. The discovery of a video recording made by Burke (pictured above) hints at a dark conspiracy by the Navy, reeking of “corruption and fear”. And a sudden fault with Vigil’s nuclear reactor may point to a health-and-safety catastrophe in the making.

According to the end credits, Vigil has been made with support from the Scottish government, which makes no secret of its opposition to nuclear weapons. That may hint at an extra political edge, but doesn't make this a compelling drama.

DCI Silva's couple of years of an unfinished medical training easily enabled her to outsmart the ship’s doctor

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