Vigil Review

The disappearance of a Scottish fishing boat out at sea is followed by a suspicious death aboard the nearby nuclear submarine HMS Vigil. With the vessel unable to return to land, DCI Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) is flown out to investigate the incident and quickly discovers that something sinister may be afoot.

by Beth Webb |
Updated on

Airing on: BBC One

Episodes viewed: 2 of 6

Zero attempts are made to distance Vigil from Jed Mercurio’s landmark crime drama Line Of Duty, a show that gripped a British audience of millions with its ensemble of corrupt coppers. The two shows share an undeniably similar set-up: a disastrous fatality in the series opener hints at the shady inner workings of an established, esteemed hierarchy of uniformed protectors. They even share a castmate: Martin Compston, one of only three actors to have featured in every episode of Line Of Duty's six-series lifespan. For Vigil to succeed then, it needs to not only live up to the expectation of being “Line of Duty underwater”, it needs to exceed it.


The show’s creator, Tom Edge, takes the challenge and runs with it. From the sequential catastrophes that set the plot’s central investigation in motion, Vigil maintains a frenetic pace which keeps the storyline propulsive while rationing its big plot reveals to maintain a constant thirst for answers. Embroiled in the broader mystery is the character study of Amy, a dogged detective recovering from past trauma, who must now hold her own against a contained, male-centric workforce (an early walkthrough reveals that only eight women and over 100 men work on the submarine).

Like _Line Of Duty_, the drama here is driven by the characters’ abilities to drop their masks at any second.

As the show’s lead, Suranne Jones evokes all the noble tenacity of an Aaron Sorkin character, unwavering in Amy’s commitment to cracking the case. Her character is methodical and, on the surface, unshakeable, as she squares up against the hierarchy of men standing in her way. We also see a compelling relationship with her deputy, Rose Leslie’s DS Kirsten Longacre, who is managing the other end of the investigation on dry land. If there’s a dent in the show’s otherwise exemplary storytelling, it’s the sub-narrative, which drips details about Amy’s traumatic past into her present situation. There’s potentially a satisfying payoff to come, but in the earliest episodes, the trauma simply seems to pile unnecessary extra layers onto a character who’s already well-drawn.

Like Line Of Duty, the drama here is driven by the characters’ abilities to drop their masks at any second. Edge and lead director James Strong are adroit in planting seeds of doubt – every lingering shot or sideways glance is loaded with potential meaning – but it’s the airtight performances from the show’s cast that seal it, from Paterson Joseph as the sub’s curt commander to Sex Education’s Connor Swindells, as a shifty, lower-ranking officer.

Aware of the boots Vigil has to fill, the BBC has funneled significant budget into the show’s look, which manifests as vast, cinematic shots of the submarine and its interior. By this point, though, such sumptuous visuals are just an added bonus that caps off a terrifically tense series with the potential to grip the entire nation once more.

A relentless conspiracy drama bursting with performers who know how to keep their cards close to their chests. British TV doesn’t get more thrilling than this.
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