As the most-watched new drama of 2021, Vigil seems to be the BBC’s answer to the hole that Line of Duty left in the primetime Sunday 9pm slot. It is the latest big budget gritty police procedural drama, with the twist of this common formula coming in the form of a new setting – a submarine 300 meters below sea level. Hot off the heels of the globally successful Line of Duty and The Bodyguard, the show is the latest from World Productions. Vigil boasts the hallmarks of their work: a gripping premise, suspenseful writing courtesy of series creator Tom Edge and a polarising ending. But did Vigil live up to its hype or sink under the pressure?
The six-part drama series tells the story of DCI Amy Silva (Suranne Jones), who is dispatched by Police Scotland to investigate the death of crewmember, Craig Burke, on board the Trident nuclear submarine HMS Vigil. To preserve the UK’s nuclear deterrent, Silva must conduct her investigation aboard the ship with the crew closing ranks and an uncooperative Royal Navy, as a local fishing trawler mysteriously vanishes.
What follows is an ambitious drama playing on the dark claustrophobic atmosphere of its submarine setting, bolstered by a cast consisting of the usual suspects of the British drama scene. Suranne Jones turns in a pretty remarkable performance as the latest emotionally damaged British detective whose family is basically marked for tragedy from the second we lay eyes on them. Rose Leslie is absolutely endearing as DS Kirsten Longacre, left to hold down the home front ashore in a truly enviable collection of knitwear. The directors, James Strong and Isabelle Saeb, take full advantage of the Scottish setting, with plenty of gorgeous long shots of the lochs.
The show’s ending has been controversial to say the least, echoing the public’s response to the Line of Duty finale, and I can’t pretend not to understand why people had qualms with certain narrative decisions. While Russia plotting to force a negative PR stunt in an effort to dupe the UK into voting in favour of scrapping its nuclear deterrent programme is not an outlandish motivation, it feels somewhat anticlimactic that their main goal boils down to getting an embarrassing photo. And as for the traitor, their motivation for betraying their country, an act which required them to commit multiple murders, blackmail and sabotage a submerged submarine repeatedly, in favour of an enemy state was… narcissism? Silva declares it practically verbatim and no other explanation is brought up, ever. Personally, it just seems like a lot of effort to go through for an ego trip.
Instead, the rest of the finale devotes itself to wrapping up loose ends while Burke posthumously gives a (cheesy but palatable) message of peace; families reunited, the Vigil crew sticking together to finish the patrol and the Navy being able to sweep everything dredged up during the investigation back under the rug while publicly pinning what they couldn’t on those pesky Russians.
As far as public opinion towards the ending goes, Vigil suffers the same fate as Line of Duty; while the simplest answer may often be the correct one or the most realistic choice, fans will be disappointed that their intricate theory-crafting ultimately came to nothing. After all, a huge factor of the popularity of these shows is their weekly release schedule, giving the viewers something to ruminate over and build hype. In the case of these drama-thriller hybrids, many viewers end up preferring the journey to the destination.
Overall, Vigil is an entertaining watch regardless – you just might need subtitles for some of those thick Scottish accents.
– Maddie Linehan
Featured Image Source: Still via Youtube // Vigil | Trailer – BBC